The first day of school can be a terrifying and exhilarating experience for the child and parent alike. It can be especially nerve-racking when a child with special needs is attending school for the first time or going back for another year. However, fear not. With some preparation before the big day, you can ensure a smooth first day for you and your child.
Even before the first day of school, visit the campus early, such as during the summer time, to get a feel for the place and to know where important facilities are located such offices, restrooms, and the nurse station. You can also check out the child’s classroom so you can prepare your child for what s/he is to expect on the first day of school.
It is always important for you and your child to be surrounded by a supportive, understanding environment so that your child feels welcome into the new school community. Introduce yourself to your child’s teacher, and make sure to inform them as necessary about your child’s needs. Introduce yourself as well to other member’s of your child’s school such as the principal, school nurse, counselor, and school aides, who, aside from the teacher, could be working very closely with your child.
If possible, help your child with the transition by explaining to them what to expect or even giving them a printed schedule of what the first day will look and feel like and where s/he will be at certain times– ask their teacher for help with this information beforehand. Purchase a special folder for your child’s teacher to keep in the classroom and one for you to keep at home of school activities and any pertinent paperwork about your child.
Even before the new school year begins, be active in school – PTAs are a great way to meet other parents and stay in the know about school activities and issues. You can collect phone numbers of your child’s classmate’s parents. PTAs can also be your opportunity to advocate for more seminars teaching school staff about working with special needs students.
While children with the same special needs may share similar characteristics, every child is unique. Although faculty members may discover on their own your child’s beautiful personality, as reinforcement to what you explain to your child’s teacher and other faculty members, write a letter to the teacher introducing your child. In it you can include details such as:
- A photo of your child
- Your child’s physical/mental/emotional strengths and challenges
- Likes and Dislikes
- Toileting needs
- Any food/medical allergies
- Medical/medication information
- Emergency phone numbers
Talk to your child as well so you are kept informed about what is going on in their day-to-day life to know if there are any concerns you may need to bring up with the teacher about the classroom setting.
If you have time to spare, volunteer in your child’s school during the school year and the days leading up to the first day of school. Teachers in younger grades will often request parent volunteers to help with work in the classroom, and if your child is older you can help around the school in other ways, such as being a playground monitor or organizing fundraisers.
With a little preparation on your part, that of the school staff, and your child for his/her first day of school, your child can focus on what matters: their academic, personal, and interpersonal development.