The summer is winding down and we have officially gotten back into the actual classroom for school this year. When you have a #specialneeds child going back to school and be even more stressful but I have to say that I am so very grateful that they are back in the classroom. With the Delta variant I was worried about it a little.
As my son has gotten older one of the challenges that has become more present is some OCD tendencies. When he was young he was so very flexible. Now that he is a teenager it's important for him to know what is going on and talking to him about changes to his schedule needs to happen and given to him in the way he best understands. Not only that but I find that every year another debriefing needs to happen with school; teachers and administrators, to get everyone up to date on what occurred over the summer, any new opportunities or successes, and the plan for the coming year. Here's what we did this year to make that transition as smooth as possible for the coming school year.
Communicate with your child in the way they understand.
About a month before school started I began talking to my son about school starting. This discussion includes reinforcing ideas about the seasons and how things change. As much as possible I try to include any ideas or concepts he already understands so that he has an easier time filing it away for himself later. This might be overkill but it is difficult to know exactly what my son understands with his limited communication. I know he wants to know what is going on so I would rather error on the side of over explaining. It is important for people to have a feeling of certainty and control over their day. This knowledge gives him that. It empowers him to talk or share about things if he wants to because I have initiated a conversation for him, which is a skill he finds difficult. We talk about who his teacher is going to be, where his school is. I remind him of names of classmates and therapists at the school. Sometimes I use pictures. Sometimes I use drawings. Sometimes we write stories together, it just depends on how he responds and how complicated things get.
This year we had to have a new discussion about joining cross country. He loves to run and this is the first year we will have a chance to do that on a real consistent schedule with neurotypical peers. Because this was a new idea and concept for Jack we did a lot of talking about it and I supplemented a lot with drawings and even some videos. I was very specific with him about times and dates and we filled out his weekly schedule together as we got a week out from school. I was also sure to go to the open house for the school when it was scheduled. Now he can remember the building and see some friends before school actually starts. Those open houses are really helpful I believe for him.
Email the teacher and EC admin at school.
A few weeks before school gets started I reach out to any teaching staff or administrators that I need to. This is a friendly - "We can't wait for the school year to start letter" and mostly shares some information about our summer and any activities that he participated in. It is so so important that you share gratitude and appreciation for everyone at the school right now. It creates and supports the relationships you want to continue to build for your child. It's even more important to do this when you have an issue to bring up. For us this year there was a last minute staff change. My email to the EC administrator when I found out about this was direct but VERY supportive and understanding. If you find yourself in a situation where you are not happy with how the school communicated information to you be sure to always start with understanding, NOT blame. For example; my email included statements about how I know this is difficult work and that everything is very busy at the beginning of the year. I also stated how my expectation was that the school keep families informed about even potential staff changes as that helps us prepare our kids for the coming year. Then I offered to help. Literally said, if there is anything that I can do that might helps this communication be easier for everyone I am more than happy to discuss how.
I am a very firm believer that you must have a solid, professional, and COLLABORATIVE relationship with your child's school and every person in it. I know folks that will create a much bigger mess with things because they get upset about something and think they are entitled to demand that the school do something about it. Y'all that is just not how things work. You have to be willing to come to others with some understanding and a win-win attitude if you want to have a positive experience.
Email any support or care staff for your child at home.
We are actually in between support staff right now in the home but right around the time I start emailing the school I usually email or talk to our caregiver about the school time schedule. Pick-up and drop-off times, any therapies or activities that are happening and when. What their schedule will be like the first few months. Long weekends away, potentially working around their college schedule. Whatever it might be.
Don't forget to also talk with home therapist, especially if you don't do a lot of therapy in the summer. We have lots of camps and travel through the summers so some of our more regular therapies need to be replanned and thought about. Three months might have staff changes or schedule shifts. These things need to be thought about and considered for your child so the year can run smooth. This of course all gets communicated back to my son while we are building out his weekly schedule too.
Write down the new schedule for you and your child!
Which is the last thing. A few weeks before school starts my son and I literally sit down with several different calendars and set up his days. The first calendar is really just a schedule on a white board. Each day has the major events for that day on it. Maybe Monday is school and cross country, or school and #ABAtherapy (I use our therapists name instead of just calling it therapy). Maybe you have OT on Wed or a regular family function that happens each week. Those types of things I put on this weekly schedule. I have also needed to start including tasks or activities on the weekends because I have learned from COVID that we need to make sure we have structure on those days too in order to avoid confusion, boredom and ultimately upset attitudes. In addition to this weekly/daily schedule we also fill out a monthly wall calendar that can help him track a little further into the future. He knows when holidays are coming up or any other special events.
After we get all this in his calendar I put it all in mine. I have two, a paper one and a Google one. I need both LOL. I find that writing it down on paper helps me feel more accomplished at the end of my day because I can use it like a to do list. The Google one sends me the reminders I need so I don't forget. Especially in those first few weeks when we are getting back into a different normal.
And by that time the first day of school has hit. :)
Which is always an exciting day. I'm very glad and fortunately that my kids really enjoy school for the most part. They don't always enjoy getting up in the morning but they do like going. I'm also very grateful to have some amazing staff and professionals at the school that take great care of Jack and help him a ton.
Getting back into the school routine can be a challenge though so be sure to reach out for support if and when you need it. And if you are looking for some practical ways to implement things like this in your home be sure to reach out and set up an appointment with me to discuss some options https://calendly.com/consider-jennifer/coaching-session
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Throw a comment below on how the school start went for you and don't forget to like and share! It helps me out a ton and then I can help others!
Thanks so much guys and don't forget