Disclosure: This post was sponsored by Follett and Sverve. All opinions are my own.
Right now, you may be beginning to panic about the school year. Whether your child is only days away from starting school or is barely roughing it through the first few weeks, she may be struggling to get back into the swing of things. If your child starts school and a problem that prevents learning crops up immediately, you need to take action to solve it. Here Embracing Imperfect’s a step-by-step guide for helping your child with special needs go back to school.
5 Steps for Helping Your Child With Special Needs Go Back to School
Step 1. Figure Out Where Your Child Struggles Most
You can’t solve every problem at once so find the one that is holding up her school day the most. For example, some years back we struggled to get Zoe on her school van for pick up. Obviously, if she didn’t get on the van, she wouldn’t get to school so before we tackled any other issues (and there were a few that year), we had to find a solution to get her on the van every morning.
Step 2. Don’t Force It
The biggest mistake we made during this time was trying to gently encourage, then push more firmly, then finally demand she get on the van. That made her really dig in her heels against us. She positioned herself in a way to prevent us from guiding her to the street. Parents, kids are way stronger than you think and will NOT budge if they don’t want to. And of course, you don’t want to be yanking or pulling on them so it’s better to let the bus – or whatever your issue – go for the day or the morning. That first day she struggled, we kept her home.
Step 3. Create a “Quick Fix”
Keeping her home set a bad precedent that first time made getting on the van the next day much more difficult. The “quick fix” here was obvious: we drove her to school. We continued that for a few days but that solution was not available every day. Don’t get me wrong – the car ride was a challenge too but she was more willing to be driven in a familiar car – with me pulling over to rebuckle her seatbelt from time to time – than to get into the school van. That drive helped me figure out the next step. Since that second day was a Thursday, I decided to drive her on Friday as well and solve the van issue on Monday. This gave her time to regroup and me time to figure things out.
Step 4. Find Out What Is Triggering Her
If your child refuses to comply with something, you need to find out why she is so resistant. Raising a child with autism, sensory issues and speech delays meant we had to unravel why Zoe wouldn’t get on the bus. She battled the seatbelt – which was unusual – but that tipped me off that her sensory issues had escalated and were contributing to the issue: everything from a jacket to a shirt to a the seatbelt was bothering her and when it came time for school on a that first very hot day, she did not want to go. I was lucky that I could observe this at home. Sometimes, issues happen at school and kids show very different behavior when parents are around to observe. You may need to bring in an objective 3rd party, such as an inclusion expert, to observe the behavior.
Step 5. Address That Problem on All Fronts
What do I mean by “all fronts”? I mean food, natural remedies, alternative therapies, traditional therapies, transitional devices or toys, supplements, social stories, etc. – throw whatever you’ve got in your toolbox at the problem as long as your therapies don’t conflict. Once I had figured out that a sensory issue was preventing her from getting on the van, I did everything in my power to adjust those issues. I contacted our homeopath to let her know we needed to work on this issue as soon as possible. For my daughter, skin sensitivity can be triggered by certain foods, so I removed those and carefully monitored her diet, which required me to work with the school and eventually alter her IEP.
To make her hypersensitive arms more comfortable, I bought her new clothing. She could not wear tight long sleeves during those hot days, but I could buy her a tight sleeveless shirt. Sensory-friendly summer clothing is hard to find. Luckily I found athletic tank tops that were a tad too small on her – which is a good thing. They covered her just fine and provided the compression she craved on her torso. Finally, I gave her transitional toys that she could play with and chew on. These helped distract her as she rode the van and we managed to get her buckle her seatbelt. We then purchased a seatbelt lock to keep dissuade her from undoing the seatbelt.
If All Else Fails…
Every single one of these steps was critical in getting my daughter to school and some unraveled over time. It took a much longer time to get rid of the seatbelt lock – months later – and only now, years later, can she leave on the van without any transitional toys – usually. But what happens if you’ve tried steps 1-5 and your child is still not getting on well at school? Then it is time to call a meeting. You may want a full blown IEP and you may need to call in your special needs advocate to help you navigate the problem. Or, you can meet with your child’s special education staff to brainstorm more ideas or find someone objective who is a specialist in the field of your child’s disability. It’s really important, too, to have a good support group of like-minded parents who are raising kids with similar difficulties to get ideas and advice on how they’ve dealt with a crisis in school.
A lot of parents at this point are frustrated, scared and angry, and turn to blame the school or Board of Ed staff. I’ve been there when these people were in the wrong and I’ve been there when I wanted to blame others because I was at my wit’s end despite everyone’s best intentions. It’s critical to keep calm, keep perspective and keep in mind what schools are dealing with today: increased class sizes, lower budgets, fewer supports, not enough special ed staff, and lots of turn over. Your child’s team has to do what’s best for her within their means and without disturbing or alienating all the other kids in her class as well.
That’s why it’s important that teachers and schools can get all the resources they need. Follett is a company that can help. They are a leading provider of education technology, services and print and digital content for schools, districts and colleges. We’d be lost without the technology our amazing school provides for our children! Their services help classrooms thrive and provide all kids with what they need to get a good education. This year, I’m joining Follett’s #FallBacktoSchool campaign helping your child with special needs go back to school.