From summer to school – the big transition

preschool classThe transition from summertime to the school year can be a daunting one for any child. For a child with special needs, it can be especially difficult. And, for her parents, this journey can be very stressful and anxiety provoking. Whether your child is returning to preschool or elementary school, there is so much to think about.

In two prior blog posts, I shared tips on how to survive the transition from summer to school, especially if your child has trouble transitioning from one activity to another in his daily life:

•    Re-entry: life after vacation will help you cope with the changes of re-establishing your “old” routine after having been away on vacation. Creating a memory book to document last year’s successful transition to preschool/school will help your child realize that he can do this…again.

•    Summer to September covers topics such as meeting the teacher, changing bedtime hours slowly, making medication adjustments, and learning to cut YOURSELF some slack. If your child has an IFSP, IEP or 504, it is very helpful for your child to meet her teacher and for you to hold planning meetings before school starts. It is also helpful for your child to visit the classroom.

Here are some other ideas to help ease the transition.

Create a “cheat sheet”

The first week of school is hard on teachers, too. One teacher may have 25 students to get to know. To help ease the transition for your child, and to keep it manageable for her teacher, create a “cheat sheet.” This short page of bullets will describe your child’s toughest challenges, and what the teacher can do to help ease the transition. Depending on whether your child has a formal diagnosis, an IEP or a 504 plan, or if she is just extra sensitive to change and transition, a “cheat sheet” can help your child’s teacher deal with the rough patches during the first week of school. It should include certain triggers and the most obvious areas of difficulty.

For example, if your child has sensory issues and hates sudden loud sounds, you might have a bullet that says “Diana has a hearing sensitivity. The popping of balloons, sound of fire drills or kids screaming will cause her to put her hands over her ears or cower underneath her desk.”

Likewise, if your child needs extra time to process speech, you can say “Speak directly and slowly to Diana and wait for her to process your words before expecting her to reply to you. If Diana is quiet, she is processing your sentences. She needs extra time to understand all of your words.”

Keep the page short, with just the most important items listed in bullet form. You want the teacher to be able to know the most important tips without having to read pages and pages about your child. Then, follow-up later in the week and ask for an appointment to have a conversation.

Use a communication journal

Often parents and teachers use a daily communication journal to discuss your child’s day. The teacher or classroom assistant jots down any issues (or achievements) that occurred that day. It is a way for you to learn about your child’s day without depending on your child to tell you. You can then add your own comments about homework issues, sleep problems (which may affect mood or attention span the next day), or achievements that occurred at home. Communication journals are often a part of an IEP, so that both the parent and teacher are fully aware of a child’s day/evening, which will take the guesswork out of figuring out why your child is acting in a particular way. A journal can be a way of identifying small problems before they become big ones.

Be patient

It may sound obvious, but patience is paramount. Heading to school is very, very hard for a child with special needs. The changes in routine, scenery, friends and personalities is a lot to take in! Your child may hold it together while at school and then have an enormous meltdown the moment she gets home. Try to understand that she is coping as best she can and try to have patience.

Note: This post is part of the weekly series Delays and disabilities – how to get help for your child. It was started on January 16, 2013 and appears every Wednesday. Click on “Help for your child” and scroll down to view all of the blog posts to date. As always, we welcome your comments and input.

Have questions? Send them to AskUs@marchofdimes.com.

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