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Dani Gillman
BY Dani Gillman

Five Tips for Easing Your Child’s Transition Back to School

Remember that old back to school commercial with the mom floating down the aisle of the office supplies store while the holiday classic “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year” played? I never really appreciated that commercial until I became a parent and prepared to send my own child back to school after a long summer break.

For some children, heading back to school can bring up feelings of anxiety and uncertainty. Here are a few ways to better prepare your child with Special Needs.

1. School visit

During the weeks leading up to the first day, many teachers can be found setting up their classrooms and are often happy to receive visits and even some help from students. Walking around the school, seeing the classroom, where he or she will sit, and getting to know the teacher is a great way to alleviate some anticipatory anxiety.

2. Write a Social Story

While visiting the school, take photos of your child with the teacher, in the cafeteria, on the playground, etc. Then you can use these photos to create a more relatable social story. “At recess, I will go play on the playground” and include a photo of your child on the actual monkey bars!

3. Plan a date with a classmate

Most schools post class lists in advance of the beginning of school. Even if it’s just meeting another family at the park for an hour, this is a great way to get acquainted with a new classmate or reacquainted with an old one.

4. Shop for school supplies together

Letting your child pick out her school supplies might help her feel proud of her utensils and feel reminded that she’ll have items that are exclusively hers in the classroom. One more expectation to be met!

5. Write a story for the other kids

If your child will be spending time in the general education (mainstream) environment, it might be helpful for his typically developing peers to understand a bit about your child. This book can be a very basic introduction to your child.

In the book  include some things about your child that makes him unique and all the things that make him just like the other kids (i.e favorite food is pizza, loves to swim and play Minecraft, etc).

You may also want to include a page about some things that are difficult for your child:
“I’m a smart girl, but some things are hard for me. I have very low muscle tone and that makes it harder for me to run, climb, talk, and write. I try really hard and I’m getting better all the time. I might need your help sometimes. Do you think you can help me?”

This book will may also be for the parents of your child’s peers to help them explain your child’s differences to their own kids.

Transition is hard for our kids. Hopefully these tricks and tips will help you and your child ease right into the beginning of a (hopefully) successful school year!

How do you transition your child back to school? Please share in the comments below.

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Dani Gillman

Written on July 29, 2013 by:

Dani Gillman is Cofounder and Head of Marketing at Birdhouse– a Detroit-based startup empowering parents raising children with special needs to learn more about their children through a behavior journaling app for iPhone, Android and the web. She’s also mom to a 11 year old daughter (who happens to have Autism) and a 2 year old son (who doesn’t appreciate naps as much as his mother does).
  • Sunday Stilwell

    Excellent list, Dani! Thanks for this!

    • Dani @ Birdhouse For Autism

      Thanks, Sunday! Glad you liked it.

  • Candy

    Great ideas for our elementary kids!!
    How about some suggestions for our older kids/teens Jr and Sr. High kids who are feeling the large looming anxiety of the transition back to school??

    • Dani @ Birdhouse For Autism

      Candy, thanks for your feedback. That’s a great idea. Might be good fodder for a follow-up post!

  • ccorwin

    Last year, my ASD son went from 7th grade in an ASD self-contained classroom to 8th grade cross-categorical classroom. (7 kids max to 15 kids max). He was changing schools AND school districts so there were going to be lots of changes.
    So, to help prepare him we made a couple visits to the new school. I also arranged to have his teachers, social worker, speech, OT, and anyone else he might come in contact with, there. I took pictures of him WITH each of them, then I created a power point and made the social story using the pictures. I also had the order of his classes, so I basically made a ‘moving’ social story. Then I used a song he really liked, “Boys are back in town”, in the background.
    It really helped having the support of the new teachers/staff.
    Now he is moving on to 9th grade and high school… wondering if I can do the same and if I’ll have the same support. 🙂

    • Dani @ Birdhouse For Autism

      Ha! I love that you used music he likes to help him associate good, happy thoughts with the photos of the school team. Great thinking, mama! And you’re right- the support makes a huge difference!

  • Carol

    Visiting school ahead of time and doing walk throughs are very helpful for middle school/high school students even if it is not a new school.(I am a middle school assistant principal with 19 year old son with autism.)

    • Dani @ Birdhouse For Autism

      Carol, I could probably tell you how helpful it is to an anxious mom to have the understanding of the school administration, but I have a feeling you already know that 🙂

  • Courtney Potter Beck

    Excellent! This year I also let my daughter (she’s 8 too!) take a camera with her to her classroom walk-through/meet the teacher meeting. She could take pictures of anything and everything that she wanted (I may have snuck in a few big-picture classroom shots.) It really helped her to take it all in and pay attention. She loved looking back through all of the pictures like a portable slideshow in the week or so before school started!

    • Dani @ Birdhouse For Autism

      What a great idea, Courtney! Giving our kids some control helps them to feel confident- I love that you gave your daughter the camera! I hadn’t even thought of that 🙂
      Way to go, mama!

  • Fred Stanczak

    My daughter (now entering her second year of college) had an IEP for Learning Disabilities in elementry school and would react with anxiety and distress to the beginnning of a new school year. We found that it was helpful to start talkng about the school year at the beginning of August and to do some of the things that Dani suggests. Many kids are fearful of the new year, often around fears that it will be “too hard”. If a reading or math text book from that level is vailable, friom an older sibling or by asking the school, it may help to introduce your child to the first lesson to reassure her that she or he is ready to begin the next grade. This kind of acccommodation can also be incorporated into an IEP or Section 504 plan. A little early orientation goes a long way toward allieviating those fears. Great list!!

    • Dani @ Birdhouse For Autism

      Another great idea! Thank you for sharing.

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  • Tamara Tate

    Great reminders! Thanks!

    • Dani @ Birdhouse For Autism

      Thank YOU, Tamara!


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