Great Expectations – Starting the School Year Off Right
September is here which means the start of a new school year. Great expectations and high hopes abound. Maybe your child is going to a new school this year or attending school for the first time. Parents and children can feel both excited and anxious.
How can you make this year a successful one? In my experience, a successful school year depends on teamwork between parents and staff on how to best support the child. Providing pertinent information about your child keeps the staff informed on how to best accommodate their needs, while supporting your child to make the transition to school routines with as much predictability as possible.
Supporting your school
There are some ways for parents to support the school team. Because parents know their child best, they need to be part of the process is selecting an appropriate program and placement. It is important to be realistic about the child’s needs and abilities. Inclusion may not be for everyone or it may be necessary to advocate for full-time aide support.
- Send an All About Me form to school about your child that lists special interests, dietary restrictions, strengths, sensory issues and anything else you think may be important for school staff to know.
- Let the teacher know if you are a family that does homework or not. Homework can be a huge stress to family harmony and may not be worth it.
- Make the teacher aware of your communication preferences – e-mails, notes in the agenda, separate communication book, or regular phone calls.
- Think about some goals for your child before the first parent/teacher interview. This can be communication, social skills, or academic goals. If you have never done an IEP, you can find out more about that here.
- Be realistic about your child’s abilities and set reasonable expectations with the school.
- Provide a list of strategies that have worked well for your child over the years.
- Let the teacher know about your family challenges. Are there siblings? Illness? Spouse away on frequent business trips?
- Book a second appointment at the end of September to see how things are going.
Supporting Your Child
- Establish a school day routine. Set regular times for bed, meals, leisure, computer use, bath etc. Now is your chance to change something that didn’t work last year since this is a new year. Visual supports can really help a child feel confident in understanding their daily routines.
- Create a communication system for your child to know how their day went. Most students I used to teach would say they did nothing in school when asked. With limited communication skills, try circling activities done that day on a sheet. Discuss the weather, make observations. These things help a child develop small talk and conversational skills.
- Make time for special interests during the week. Waiting until the weekend can be too long!
- Set small, achievable daily goals so that your child feels success each day. This could be a small step to increase independence. I have done this with my son. On one day, he was able to do up one button on his shirt without my help. The next day, he would try to put his own deodorant on.
- Develop a relaxation plan. This could be some simple yoga moves, listening to music, blowing bubbles, deep breathing – whatever works. Many children with ASD don’t know how to calm themselves and have to be taught. Relaxation can stop stress from becoming out of control.
No year will ever be perfect – life is full of ups and downs. By establishing routines, leisure activities, small goals, and reasonable expectations, you’re bound to have a year with good memories and positive events. Stay involved and have a great school year!
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