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Back to School Advice for Parents of Special Needs Children

Updated on February 17, 2015
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Rose is a full-time freelance writer who frequently writes about education, special education, DIY projects, food, Milwaukee, and more.


How To Prepare for your First Day of School

Anyone who is a teacher or parent has seen lots of parents on both ends of the spectrum when it comes to involvement with their children. The key is moderation. You do not want to be the parent who does not bother to attend conferences and needs multiple reminders to turn in permission slips. You also do not want to be the parent who drops by the school and/or calls teachers every single day.

Having your children start school is a big transition for both parents and children. This transition can be even more stressful for parents of children with special needs. There is a lot of anxiety, and there are a lot of questions. Hopefully you have found or are in the process of narrowing down a great school for your child or children. If you are still looking at schools, check out this article. Having a school system that is fully dedicated to your children in every way that they can be is a huge relief. However, you probably still have questions. I hope that this article will answer some of those questions for you.

Getting kids involved with cooking at home is a great pre-academic experience for them.

Attend meetings, open houses, etc. I know that it is not possible to attend every school function, but make every effort to attend conferences and big school events such as open house and all school concerts. It means a lot to both the students and the teachers when parents make this effort. Having parents at conferences helps keep the lines of communication open both ways. Having high attendance numbers at school functions keeps morale and motivation up for the entire school population and the community in general.

If applicable, do a home visit. Many schools have home visits for preschoolers or kindergarteners who are just starting school. Someone at the school will contact you about setting up this visit. Generally the visit is very informal and fairly short (15-20 minutes). It gives the teacher and the student an opportunity to meet each other in a setting that is familiar and comfortable for the child.

Pre-academic experiences: Many suggestions in this hub are not specific to special needs children. This one is no exception. The best pre-academic experiences are good for all students, no matter what their needs are. Read to your children at home. I've included several links below with reading suggestions and online resources. Reading at home does not have to be a huge time commitment. See if you can work in 10-15 minutes a few times a week. Give your children interesting experiences. These experiences do not have to be expensive. Local and at home options include, but are certainly not limited, to: trips to the library, cooking/baking projects, nature walks in your neighborhood or town, and trips to the park.

Continue therapy at home. If your child has had Early Access or equivalent services and/or private speech-language, occupational therapy, and/or physical therapy services, continue to follow through with any of the home suggestions that you've been given. If you choose to continue private services, communicate with the school providers about at home goals and therapy work so that everyone is on the same page.

Join support groups, local and/or online. Just like it is recommended that pregnant women do not read anything and everything about pregnancy for 9 months, you do not need to join or read everything that it is out there. Pick a few active ones that are relevant to you and fully participate in them. I've linked a few online forums. It's important to find local groups as well, if possible. If you aren't able to find any information online, consult with your child's teacher or with other parents at your child's school.

Autism House: Visual Supports for the Home

Network. In addition to networking with parents through online and local support groups, network with other parents at school and in the community. Sometimes this can happen naturally by getting involved with the classroom and/or school functions. Parents can offer suggestions for a wide variety of resources that you may need (i.e. doctors/dentists, ideas for visual schedules/supports, handling any variety of difficult daily situations).

Using communication notebooks or sending e-mails. As a teacher, some of the strongest relationships I've had are with the parents who use communication notebooks to give quick summaries of what's going on at home daily or least 2-3 times per week. In return, I will write a brief summary of how the day went for the child, highlighting any specific highs and lows and anything unusual that took place. Writing every day can seem like a big time commitment, but you don't need to write more than 4-5 sentences most of the time.

If it is easier for you to e-mail, most teachers are more than willing to do that instead. Generally it is preferable to use some sort of notebook or e-mail communication method than to call unless there is some sort of emergency or unexpected change. Teachers can put together more well thought out summaries in writing during prep periods than they can if they're put on the spot with phone calls.

Plan school visits. If you want to visit your child's classroom, plan a time with the teacher. Most teachers are happy to arrange this but don't appreciate unplanned drop ins.

Use visuals/word labels at home. Many people associate visuals and visual schedules with students with autism, but there are benefits of visuals and word labels at home for all pre-readers. I have provided several links below with more details about this topic as well as suggestions for labels at home and other pre-reading activities. Keep reading for resources for visuals.

Visual schedules. Picture schedules are also associated with autism but can be used for any children who have difficulty mastering task sequences and/or making transitions. Some children need a visual schedule for their entire day while some need schedules for specific tasks (i.e. getting ready in the morning, completing chores on the weekend). You can also use visuals for "first/then" scenarios. For example, first you need to finish your dinner, then you can play with your Legos. See the link section to the right for "first/then" resources.

I have linked an article on the right that I put together with resources for visuals. You can also consider using magazines, clip art, and royalty free image sites. Consult with fellow parents for ideas and resources. They may even be able to make copies and/or send files of visuals or schedules that they've used with their own children.

Finally: Start a new file for school paperwork. If you don't have a file for pre-schooling paperwork, create a separate file for that. It's really helpful to have all important documents from school in one place for easy reference.

Tips for parents with children starting kindergarten.


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    • randomcreative profile imageAUTHOR

      Rose Clearfield 

      8 years ago from Milwaukee, Wisconsin

      That's great, Becky! Best of luck to you and your daughter.

      Carol, it's wonderful that you got the help that you needed when you needed it with your kids.

    • carol7777 profile image

      carol stanley 

      8 years ago from Arizona

      You did a great job on this hub and covered it all. Though my kids are long grown up...I did have some issues with one of my kids. I was lucky to always be at the right place, right time and right help.

    • Rfordin profile image


      8 years ago from Florida

      As I get ready to take my "new" kindergarderner to her orientation this morning I'm filled with all kinds of emotions. I appreciate your hub/video for semi-calming my nerves.

      Thanks for sharing!


    • randomcreative profile imageAUTHOR

      Rose Clearfield 

      8 years ago from Milwaukee, Wisconsin

      Thanks! It's great to hear that. Best of luck to you and your kids this school year.

    • thewritingowl profile image

      Mary Kelly Godley 

      8 years ago from Ireland

      Very useful. As mom of a Special Needs child your list is spot-on and I'll be looking at it again during the year before my 4 year old makes the scary transition from Early Intervention class to another new school.

    • randomcreative profile imageAUTHOR

      Rose Clearfield 

      8 years ago from Milwaukee, Wisconsin

      Thanks, Thundermama! That's good to know.

    • Thundermama profile image

      Catherine Taylor 

      8 years ago from Canada

      Great hub! As the parent of three kids with varying degrees of special needs I would have loved to come across this several years ago because it really is a great list of what and what not to do.

    • randomcreative profile imageAUTHOR

      Rose Clearfield 

      8 years ago from Milwaukee, Wisconsin

      Thanks, midget!

      Cyndi, yep, hopefully this will helpful for the new school year. I'm certainly not an expert on the subject, but I like to pass on what advice I do have. Thanks!

    • cclitgirl profile image

      Cynthia Calhoun 

      8 years ago from Western NC

      With a new school year upon us, I know lots of parents will find this helpful. You sound like you have so much experience with this; thank you for sharing this! Great tips! Voted up and shared.

    • midget38 profile image

      Michelle Liew 

      8 years ago from Singapore

      This is a wonder hub, I so agree.....thanks for sharing these tips for children with special needs. Thanks for sharing!

    • randomcreative profile imageAUTHOR

      Rose Clearfield 

      9 years ago from Milwaukee, Wisconsin


    • ubanichijioke profile image

      Alexander Thandi Ubani 

      9 years ago from Lagos

      You have performed excellently writing this wonder-hub. I commend you for putting the interest of others uppermost in mind. Be blessed

    • randomcreative profile imageAUTHOR

      Rose Clearfield 

      9 years ago from Milwaukee, Wisconsin

      I just published my resources hub! I hope that this is helpful.

    • randomcreative profile imageAUTHOR

      Rose Clearfield 

      9 years ago from Milwaukee, Wisconsin

      Thank you.

    • breathing profile image


      9 years ago from Bangladesh

      Nice job,randomcreative.

    • randomcreative profile imageAUTHOR

      Rose Clearfield 

      9 years ago from Milwaukee, Wisconsin

      This would definitely be a good topic for a hub! It's an issue that has come up for me in the past. I will add it to my list.

      At home suggestions from therapists are something that I often conveyed to parents through my communication notebooks. Two of my best therapists would even write their own notes in the communication books on occasion (once a month or so), which was great. This method worked pretty well. I gave out the contact information for my therapists so parents could e-mail or call them directly with specific questions. Check with your school on this policy, but the therapists I've worked with were usually more than willing to do this.

      I'm really glad that this is helpful! Let me know if you think of any other questions or want more information about this specific topic.

    • profile image

      Giselle Maine 

      9 years ago

      Hi Randomcreative, I'm so glad you said it was OK to ask questions! Yes, there is something else I'm puzzled about.

      How do does a parent know how/what to follow-through with on therapy at home?? Prior to school, the child was at home all day, so the parent knows what they are 'up to' with their learning, and are present at therapy sessions. How does the parent know what is happening and what homework to do when child receives therapy at school (by a visiting school therapist other than the teacher)?? In the case of speech therapy this can be a catch-22 because if the child has very significant communication problems then he is unable to communicate to mom anything about his speech therapy?!

      I think I am probably not the only parent out there confused about how this situation will work at school... sorry, I realize this is probably a fairly complex question I've asked. (Hey, it might even be an idea for a hub!) Anyhow, to re-iterate my first comment, thanks again for the advice above that you gave here in this article, it really helps for the parent to hear it from a teacher's perspective.

    • randomcreative profile imageAUTHOR

      Rose Clearfield 

      9 years ago from Milwaukee, Wisconsin

      You're welcome, Giselle! I'm glad that this was so helpful for you. It's wonderful to know that this truly is a great resource for parents. If you think of anything else or have questions about anything here, please let me know.

      I'll let you know when I make a hub about visuals. For now, please check out the links that I included in this hub as well as my other hubs related to teaching and special education. I have details about visuals in a number of them.

      Take care!

    • profile image

      Giselle Maine 

      9 years ago

      Thanks so much, I found this hub extremely helpful!! And nicely in time for the upcoming academic year. Your article dealt with every aspect I had been wondering about, plus some more that hadn't occurred to me before! In particular, I found the section on email/communication notebook the most helpful, as was the visual schedule. I was thrilled to hear that you are thinking about making another hub dealing with visuals, I'll definitely be looking forward to that too.

      I'm definitely bookmarking this hub so I can keep refering back to it. Thanks again for this wonderful resource for parents.


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