When a Child with Special Needs Starts a New School
10 things you can do for your child starting middle or high school
Moving to a new school is difficult for any kid, but when your child has special needs, the transition can cause even more anxiety. Here are 10 things you can do for your child to make the transition to middle school or high school a more positive experience.
- Navigate the building. Visit the new school near the end of the current school year and walk around. Go after school so that your child is not the center of attention. Learn to move through the school, find the bathrooms, use the playground, and walk through the lunchroom. Do this as many times as necessary so that your child or teen can learn his or her way around the building. Have your child draw or fill in a map of the school.
- Meet the front-desk staff. These are the people who know everything, and making them your ally can save you lots of time and worry. If your child forgets his or her locker combo or loses a pair of glasses, the front-desk staff can help. As a Solo Mom, the front-desk folks are critical to helping you know what is going on. See if you can come by every couple of months and chat with them for a bit.
- Practice locks. Most middle-school and high-school students will have a locker with a combination lock and likely a gym locker with a combo lock. Practice over the summer using one. For students who don’t have the skills yet for a regular combination lock, there are those that spell out a word. Key locks are an option, but it is very easy to lose a key.
- Organize school supplies. Older elementary and certainly middle- and high-school students can and should choose their own binders and files. If your kid struggles with organization, ask him or her to choose a color for each subject. The child can decorate it with a sticker (for example, a red binder with a skateboarder is for math). Some kids need to use one binder for their morning classes and a second one for afternoon classes.
- Introduce your child. If your child is on an individualized education program (IEP) or a 504 plan, write a one-page letter about your child and the top three things he or she needs from teachers to be successful. Include a recent picture of your child. Start by sending the letter to the case manager, as it’s the case manager’s job to share it with the general-education teacher, but if the case manager doesn’t, send it yourself. By the middle of high school, most teens can write (with support) or tell what they want the letter to say. Ask to use email as much as possible to stay in touch with teachers. When you are flying solo, email makes it much easier to find the time to connect.
- Understand your child’s need for alone time. Many kids are exhausted after school, especially at the beginning of the school year. Middle-school students may also be reluctant to invite kids over. They are just working out their social standing and sense of belonging, and may not want to risk inviting a new friend over who makes fun of the Pokémon stuff in their room and tells the other kids. Not hanging out with friends after school does not equal dysfunction. It could be fatigue from being social all day. It could also be your child is not feeling ready. If you are concerned that your child has no friends, ask the teachers to tell you if your child is alone at lunch and what happens in class.
- Catch them being good. It requires a lot of energy, initiative, and resilience for kids, especially those with learning challenges, to start at a new school. They need to hear that they are doing well. Remind them in very specific language what you notice they are doing well.
- Help with organization. Kids with special needs often struggle with getting homework done and getting it turned in. It is incredibly demoralizing for a tween to have done the work and then lose it before it got to the teacher. Teach your child to scan his or her work so you can save a copy. You may need to replace lost work, show that it was done on time, or email it to the teacher to be sure it gets there. Technology is an essential Solo Mom’s tool.
- Ensure IEP and 504 plan accommodations are met. Be aware of the accommodations written into your child’s IEP or 504 plan. If it includes getting notes from teachers, make sure that happens by talking to your child’s case manager or classroom teacher. Too many high-school teachers say they will if the student asks for it. If it’s written as an accommodation, then it means the student requires it in order to access school. If the child could just ask, then it wouldn’t need to be written into a legally binding plan.
- Play. Have fun with your tween or teen. It may get harder to find activities you are both willing to do, but do them. Fill yourselves up with laughter and fun.
Image via Shutterstock.com
Anna Stewart is ESME’s Kids with Special Needs Resource Guide and the Solo Mom of a daughter and two sons on the brink of adulthood. She’s a champion for the rights of people living with disabilities and those who love them.
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