Back to School: How to Prepare

The summer is almost over and school will be here shortly. Due to COVID this past school year, students of all ages and abilities faced challenging times; many schools switched to virtual learning and/or hybrid learning. For children with disabilities the challenges proved to be multi-layered and more complex. Completing school work independently or working on a computer was not always possible for these children. Some children became withdrawn or challenging behaviors intensified. As a result of virtual learning, families experienced additional stress.

In a few weeks, in-person school will begin which will bring other stressors to the familial unit. In order to help you and your child with this transition, please see the list below of some suggestions to explore. Lisa Jo Rudy, a consultant and author focusing on children with autism, wrote the following:

  • It’s important for parents to check into plans for in-person and remote education in your local district. It’s also important to remember that plans for students requiring special education may not be the same as plans for developmentally average students.
  • If information is not available on your district’s website, you may wish to call your district’s administrative offices to talk directly to the person in charge of special needs planning for your child’s school.
  • Find out what the school policy is regarding wearing face masks. If your child has trouble wearing a mask or prefers to wear a mask even if it’s not required, how will the school manage that situation?
  • Find out what the policies are regarding social distancing, social touching, handwashing and sanitation in general. How will these policies be taught and implemented with special needs students?
  • Find out how the district will manage outbreaks or individual cases of COVID-19 should they occur.
  • Find out if the district will be able to provide the same level of one-on-one support that it did before COVID-19. If there are changes, what will they look like?
  • Find out if the district will be providing the same therapies as before the pandemic began. Are there changes in staffing, hours, programs, etc.? Gather any details you can.

Think about your child and ask yourself the following questions:

  • Will my child have difficulty returning to a typical school schedule after spending some or all of last year in a home environment?
  • Will my child have increased anxiety related to new rules or to the possibility of contracting COVID-19?

Other suggestions:

  • Take time to familiarize your child with the school, playground, and classrooms again. If your child is moving to a new school, this is especially important. You can ask your district for permission to explore the school with a staff member.
  • Create a video or a social story (using words and images to explain a social situation) in order to prepare your child for changes. You can find social stories online or make your own. The ideal social story will incorporate images from your child’s real school day, starting with at-home preparation for the day and including transportation to and from school.
  • Meet with your educational team to discuss your child’s IEP (individualized education program) before the start of school. Discuss and create accommodations to manage issues that may arise as a result of COVID-related rules.
  • Ask your district to set up a meeting with your child’s teacher so your child can meet the teacher and explore the classroom. You can also discuss any expectations your child’s teacher has for COVID-related behaviors.
  • If possible, schedule meetings for your child with any new therapists or aides before school starts so your child will know who they are and what they expect.
  • If possible, set up a dry run with your district’s transportation system so that your child can experience the vehicle, driver, rules, and route.

Remember the following:

Try to remain positive and calm. Your child will take his/her cue from you.