By Lauren Conway, M.A. & Brian Yankouski, M.A., BCBA (BEST NJ, LLC)

As we say goodbye to summer and welcome September, with shorter days of sunlight and new school supplies, both parents and children anxiously await the first day of school. For some this can be an exciting time of the year, but for others there may be hesitation, wondering what adventures this school year will bring. For children with special needs this transition from summer to school again could be challenging. Below are a few suggestions that can help ease this transition period in your child’s life.

  • Visit your child’s school for a “meet and greet.” Some school districts (or even specialized programs within a district) may offer a day before the beginning of the year when you and your child can visit their new classroom and meet the teacher and classroom staff.  During that visit, ask the teacher if it is alright to take pictures. Include the outside of the school, his/her classroom, the teachers your child will be working with, and any other important locations around the school.  These photos can be used later to help orient your child to the locations in the school.
  • Take a school tour.  Ask to tour the entire school and find out additional information about the different types of places where your child may be able to go throughout the day.  For example, see if the school has a sensory room where your child may have access to different tools for self-regulation.  And ask if your child will be changing classes and where they will be going to help map out the day for your child.  Also, bring you child with you for a tour of the school to familiarize him/her with important locations (i.e. classroom, cafeteria, playground, office, nurse, etc.).
  • Write a social story.  Develop a social story about the first day of school. Use the pictures you captured during your “meet and greet” as support. Your child will be the main character in the story as you describe what your child can expect from his/her first day. This can help provide your child with clear expectations and reduce the unknown.  Before the first day and the weeks before, review the story often! Even send it to school with them.  If you have difficulty with creating the social story, contact your child’s special education teacher to see if they can support you in this process.
  • Discuss transportation. Whether your child will be taking the bus, getting dropped off, or walking to school, it is important your child is aware and comfortable with this process since this begins and ends the school day.  This will only help set your child up for success if they are comfortable with this process and understand the rules of safe transportation.
  • Establish a routine.  Once a routine is established, stick with it and be consistent. It helps to alleviate unknown variables and discuss any changes with your child. If there will be a change in schedule or routine, prepare your child for the changes ahead of time in order to reduce the likelihood of tantrums or other problem behaviors. 
  • Teach functional skills.  Help your child get used to the routine of each day by also teaching them functional skills.  For example, the night before school have your child learn to set out their clothes for the next school day.  Maybe also have them prepare their snack or lunch the night before.  Your child could also pack up their backpack the night before and leave it by the door for the morning.  These are all functional skills that will help prepare your child to become independent, prepare them for school, and reduce the morning rush of trying to get ready for the school day.
  • Review your child’s Individualized Education Program (IEP).  Be sure to review your child’s IEP prior to the beginning of the school year so you can be familiar with the types of services your child will be receiving that year.  This way you can have an open dialogue with your child’s teachers about the types of services your child should be legally receiving and address any concerns or discrepancies in services early in the year.  This will help everyone to be on the same page and ensure that your child starts off the year right with receiving the appropriate services.

Hopefully these tips will be helpful to you and your child as you prepare for the beginning of a new school year.  We wish you the best of luck with the start of a new school year and much success in your child’s journey in school.  If we could be of any service to a family in navigating the world of special education, please feel free to reach out to our agency, Behavioral and Educational Solutions and Training of NJ, LLC (BEST NJ, LLC).