A few years ago, Staples used the beloved Christmas song It’s The Most Wonderful Time of the Year while showing parents shopping for school supplies while dancing. I get it, that it is supposed to be funny. For a mom of a child with extra needs (autism, allergies, ADHD and more) September can be a big bowl of anxieties, especially when it is the first time to school.
The first day of school can be a happy one for everyone, including those with special needs, with the right tools in place.
Here is how to make it a successful year:
When you know where your child will be attending, visit or phone the office to find out what you need to do to start the transition process. Once you have registered your child, ask the school if an orientation can be arranged over a few short visits. This will provide a sense of familiarity for your child. Ask who the teacher will be, as it starts the conversation with the school team.
Don’t be afraid to ask all the questions. Kindergarten teachers are highly experienced. Write out all of your questions before any communication or meeting. You won’t be the first person with a list. Try to bring someone with you to catch what you might miss.
Ask if shortened days are an option to start for your child – that way the kids have therapy sessions in the afternoons or a break, if need be. Full-day kindergarten plus therapy sessions can be causing our children to burn out early. Ask to talk to another family from the school that has gone through it, you can learn a lot. Ask when teachers are prepping before school to be back if one more classroom visit is possible. It helps reaffirm what is happening to build excitement on what is to come. Kindergarten is not mandatory in a lot of provinces. You may want to wait.
Make a photo album to look at leading up to the first day. Three are many apps to use to label photos, and then stick them in a photo album from the dollar store. Fill it with pictures of a desk, teacher, toys, gym, playground, and places of a typical school day. If your child is leaving pre-school/daycare, add pictures of saying goodbye and hello to kindergarten. Thank the pre-school/daycare for the great times. Visual social stories work well to prepare your child.
Is there a grounding toy at the school for your child? Like a Dora or Lightening McQueen? Let the teacher know what your child’s favorite characters are. Provide one for their cubby at school, if need be.
Have your child help to find a fun first day outfit, backpack, and lunch kit. Male sure to talk about these items and explain why they are special. Allow favourite snacks that would be only for school, it helps build excitement and security in knowing what to expect. Be sure to add the pictures of them in the photo album.
Find the special things that your child will look forward to item, or area.
Don’t let mama bear out too early. By not coming in with guns blazing right out of the gate, you are able to build a greater school support team. The school is on your kid’s side too. Also, your child isn’t the only child they are looking after.
Take baby steps, it will help with a seamless transition.
Your child may need a longer transition schedule than others. Build entry time from 30 minutes, and watch your child for cues when to extend their day. For working parents, this might not be possible. Just be aware that the school might call if your child isn’t ready.
The “what if's” are scarier than reality. You have done well prepping your child for school. Don't stick around school after drop off. They will be OK.
You have my permission to go to your favourite coffee shop to treat yourself to a hot cup of coffee or tea. Enjoy it in ONE sitting!
Your child will be okay.
You will be okay, too.