Summer has flown by and Keshet families are settling into the routine of a new school year. For a family with a typical developing child, going back to school can be an exciting time. It marks another year of getting older, school accomplishments, and one step closer to the finish line. For a family with a special child, getting back into the swing of things can be a bit more challenging.
I talked to Keshet parent, Ashling Smidt and asked her what her family does to prepare their 10-year-old son Benjamin for a new school year and this is what she had to say:
There are a few things we do for Benjamin to help with the transition back to school. We prep him a few days prior to school starting by reminding him every day that he will be starting soon, as well as reminding him of the things he'll see and do that will be the same as last school year. For example, this year he has a new teacher but the rest of the staff are the same. We told him, "you're going back to school, and you'll see Steve and Sue." There was no point of trying to explain about a new teacher since that would have just created unnecessary anxiety.
Another thing we do is create a social story with pictures of all he did during the summer. Even though he can't verbally express what he did, his mind is full of all the great memories he created during the summer months. Like any typical kid going back to school, he wants to be able to communicate this. And now with the generation of the iPad, iPhones, etc, this is so much easier and more fun to do. We used an app called 'Pictello', where you can create stories by importing pictures. Together we created Benjamin's summer vacation story using images of all his favorite memories. You add words, touch the pictures, and it does the talking.
He loved showing this to everyone on his first day back. It also helps at times when he gets upset. Like all of us, transitioning back from vacation is hard so having the time to briefly reflect on those memories helps us 'get through' the normalcy again.
The transition back has its challenges. We tend to see an increase in behaviors for the first couple of weeks as he settles back into school. School is a more challenging environment for him. After he gets back into the routine, his behaviors settle down.
Corrine Woehler, Lead Teacher at the Ariella Joy Frankel Keshet Day School suggested these tips for families who are adjusting back to a school routine:
- Get details about location, teachers, and first day expectations to share with child.
- Create a picture book or social story sharing this information for your child to review prior to first day.
- Communicate with transportation services to share any important information about your child (nonverbal, listens to music, has a harness, etc).
- Write a simple summary about your child for the Para-educators that would include: interests, favorite people, things, food, and characters, immediate medical information (chapped lips, eczema, positioning), etc.
- Prepare a communication notebook to go back and forth between school and sharing information.
- Bring your child to school the first day to drop off school supplies and meet new staff.
- Ensure your doctors and therapists have all the necessary paperwork into the school for medication and services (O.T., P.T. and SLP) to begin sessions immediately.
- If your child has a communication device, make a time to meet with classroom staff and speech pathologist to make clear communication expectations and how to use the device.
- Write out all the important IEP dates that are to be followed during the school year so you are prepared with the necessary paperwork (3 year evaluations, IEP updates, transition periods, etc).
- Don't forget to say "Thank you". Your teacher works very hard to make sure your child is succeeding every day at school.
Although the new school year is already underway, keep this list readily available. Everyone knows someone who is affected by an individual with special needs and you never know when this list will come in handy.