Help your child with special needs enjoy the back-to-school experience

Marwa Abdelbary


Timing is everything. For parents, it often seems as though there’s never enough time in the day to accomplish even the most basic tasks of caring for a child. And for parents of children with special health needs, the stress can seem that much more insurmountable.

Between the pressures of researching treatments, giving equal attention to the rest of your kids, and simply finding a moment to yourself, it’s easy to be exhausted by the end of the day.

If you’re part of the 15 percent of U.S. families with a special needs child, these issues must sound all-too familiar. So what happens when the new school year begins, and your carefully crafted routines are upended?

Enslaved by the Bell

With any child, transitioning back to a new school year is a challenge. An altered daily routine and sleep schedule can be hard to initiate and stick to, especially after a more relaxed summer schedule. The additional academic and scheduling demands can feel overwhelming.

With these and other factors in mind, ease your child — as well as yourself — into this new school year in the smoothest way possible.

It’s important to remember that you’re not alone in your fears and concerns. A new school year can be a tricky time for all parents, regardless of whether their children have special needs. Your children may have a harder time or a longer transition period, but remembering that these struggles are universal can be a major help in reducing the pressure to get everything right the very first week.

Accentuating the Positives

You want to reinforce this as a positive time for your children. Garner excitement for all the wonderful things the school year has to offer. Does your child have a birthday coming up where he can invite all his classmates? Has he missed friends over the summer? Will thoughts of upcoming holidays like Halloween and Thanksgiving brighten his spirits?

School itself may seem daunting, but this time of year is filled with exciting events! Instilling this positivity is important, as negative feelings associated with school — including daily work, tests, and teachers — can often increase the likelihood of meltdowns and other behaviors.

If your child typically reacts to these pressures in a negative way, it’s essential you discuss these triggers with his or her instructors. The student-teacher relationship that develops on those first days often sets the tone for the entire year. The more positive this initial relationship is, the better assistance you’ll have as the days grow colder.

Giving It a R.E.S.T.

Even with the potential stressors that come with this time of year, helping your child through it can be easier than you think. Just remember to R.E.S.T.:

1. Reward! Reward! Reward! Every success your child experiences — even just getting through the day — . Talk about how school went, likes and dislikes, and make it a big deal. Relish every detail. Showcase any accomplishments, from new art projects or the letter of the week. This will help reinforce what your child has learned, and it will also build excitement for the next day’s assignments.

2. Enjoy the buildup. Have your child go through the list of back-to-school supplies and help you shop. Take him or her shopping for new clothes. Make a countdown calendar to have a physical representation of the building excitement. Heading back to school should never be a surprise — treating September as a transitional month helps to set kids on the right path long before the school bell rings.

3. Stay involved. Just as the lead-in to starting school is crucial, so is an ongoing interest in your child’s time in the classroom. Numerous studies have found that children with more actively involved parents perform far better in their studies. Where your schedule allows it, look for any opportunity to help out, as this direct connection helps both your child and his or her teacher to succeed.

4. Talk to the teacher. Teachers and professionals love to hear from you! Oftentimes, they can be left wondering if parents are too overwhelmed by daily concerns to receive feedback and communication. These professionals want to see positive results in your child just as much as you do and, by working together, that becomes easier and more manageable. Don’t wait until a problem arises to reach out. Build a relationship with everyone involved in your child’s academic story!

Even if you have a child with special needs, you don’t need a complicated formula to help him or her succeed. Simply reward hard work, enjoy the experience, stay involved moving forward, and talk with the professionals. With these tools cultivated from the start, your whole family will be set up for a terrific year.

Marwa Abdelbary is a physical therapist and co-founder of Tiny Tots Therapy, LLC. Tiny Tots Therapy’s multi-disciplinary and multi-lingual team consists of dedicated and talented occupational, physical, and speech therapists; with the collaboration of various Pediatricians, Counselors, and Psychologists, to meet the growing needs for individualized quality therapeutic services for your child. Connect with Tiny Tots Therapy on Twitter.


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