Change is hard.
And for kids who have disabilities, it can be extra hard.
So how can we help our kids transition from their relaxed, summer routines to their more structured school year routines?
Here’s some ideas to consider:
1. Visit your school. Let’s face it, the first day of school can be chaotic. School bells are ringing, hallways are swarming, children are buzzing, and there’s ample opportunity for kids to become confused. Consider visiting your school before the chaos sets in. Let your child explore the environment when it’s quiet and calm. Perhaps you can even schedule multiple visits to make sure your child feels extra comfortable in a new setting.
2. Talk to your education team. Gather your education team together – your general education teachers, your special education teachers, your paraeducators, etc. – and ask them to visit your child at home or in a familiar setting. This allows your son or daughter to meet new people in a safe, familiar environment.
3. Write a welcome story. Kids with disabilities need a chance to visit their classroom, but it’s also helpful for them to know their new routine, the names of their new teachers, where and how to line up, what to do with their backpack, etc. Write a welcome story that describes each of these items and allow your child to read it over and over again. (See School Welcome Story for more details).
4. Carry a classroom item. Allow your son or daughter to carry something that belongs in the new environment. For example, during a school visit you could allow your child to take a toy, book, or poster piece home (with the teacher’s permission). That item needs to be returned the first day of school. This will take the pressure off the “child” walking into the room and put that on the “item” coming into the room. This is especially effective for children on the autism spectrum. Instead of the teacher saying, “Come in, Eric” they can say, “Let’s put the book back on the shelf.” This may be helpful transitioning from gym to music room to chapel area (e.g., carry the ball to the gym, bring a note for the music teacher, find some other item that needs to travel to that spot).
5. Ease the transition. Have a few familiar people stay with your child for the first few minutes of school. Ask the teacher if you, your spouse, and/or a sibling and your child can come to school earlier on the first day. Use the time to play together in the classroom before the others arrive and then slip out when your child appears to be happily engaged in an activity.
This passage was adapted from “Nuts & Bolts of Inclusive Education”, a new book by Barbara J. Newman. Barbara J. Newman is a church and school consultant for CLC Network, a non-profit organization based in Wyoming, Michigan that promotes the development of people with a variety of abilities and disabilities to live as active, integrated members of their communities. CLC Network partners with families and organizations to understand more fully the individuals they serve and to build support systems that enable their inclusion in all aspects of life.