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10 ways to help special needs students heading back to school

Heading back to the classroom this fall is exciting, but it can also be a challenging time for families of children with special needs.

The Episcopal Center for Children (ECC), a nonprofit organization serving children coping with special needs ages 5-14 in the Washington, DC area since 1895, offers tips to help:

Tip #1 – Review your child’s Individual Education Plan (IEP). Carefully look over the IEP. Do you have any new medical or psychological reports that the school should know about? Some parents find using a binder or folder for paperwork can be a big help.

Tip #2 – Keep everyone informed. Talk with the school to make sure their plans for your child match the intentions in the IEP. Ensure the school staff are up to speed on where your child is presently. Make sure you know where your child’s classroom is, any transportation plans, and what he or she will need to bring each day. Talk with your child too. Build up “going back to school” and be positive!

Tip #3 – Calm any stress or first day jitters your child may have. Whether it’s a new classroom or familiar surroundings, children may be nervous about starting back to school. Talk with your child about their feelings. Assure your child that going back to school will be a good thing.

Tip #4 – Delay getting new school clothes. A new outfit may not calm first day nerves. For some children coping with sensitivities, new clothes may aggravate nervousness or be uncomfortable. For children with sensory challenges, new clothes may feel itchy, stiff and uncomfortable. If your child needs it, let him or her wear clothes that are comfortable and familiar for the first few days of school.

Tip #5 – Help your child “picture” going back to school. Some children visually process information and benefit from visual assurances. Create a visual countdown chart at home, so your child can help move the numbers as you count down to the start of the school year. If your child is returning to a familiar school and you have photos showing him or her at school or with friends or a teacher, show the photos to your child. If you visit the school before school starts, take a picture of your child in his or her classroom, and show the photo to your child later at home.

Tip #6 – Begin introducing new routines before school starts. Morning and afternoon routines can help your child transition into and out of school each day. You may need to establish an earlier bedtime routine to make sure your child is up on time and ready to go. Start thinking about how you want to approach homework. Talk with your child about when and how homework will be completed.

Tip #7 – Talk to the school staff about any of your concerns. Open communication helps children coping with special needs. Speak with school staff if you have noticed something new about your child that may impact their education. Open communication with school staff will benefit your child. Some parents find it helpful to keep a communication log or to set reminders on their calendar for regular check-ins with school staff.

Tip #8 – Get clarity on transitions. Because transitions during the school day can be challenging, clarify with school staff how transitions are handled. Who greets children as they get off the bus? Who talks to them when they walk into the building? How are transitions between classes or activities handled? Make sure your child understands what to expect.

Tip #9 – Mark your calendar for school events. If the school has an open house, parent-teacher night, or back to school program, try to attend. Talk with the staff about your child’s progress. If you are not able to go, make a point of calling the teacher or staff at another time and getting caught up on the information.

Tip #10 – Review your child’s school’s Parent-Student Handbook. Carefully review the school’s parent-student handbook to make sure that you are aware of school policies and requirements. Discuss the discipline policy with your child prior to the first day of school…

About the Episcopal Center for Children
The Episcopal Center for Children is a nonprofit, nondenominational school and treatment program for children contending with emotional challenges from the greater Washington, D.C. metropolitan area. Accredited by the Joint Commission, the Center serves children who are 5-14 years old in grades K-8. The goal of the Center’s treatment, therapeutic milieu, and individualized special education program is to empower each child to function productively within his or her family and community. Building on strengths within children, the Center partners with families in treatment and focuses on enabling its students to access and become their best possible selves. More information is available at eccofdc.org and on Twitter and Facebook @ECCofDC  #EveryChildCan

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