5 Items that can Help your Child with Special Needs on the First Day of School
Chances are your child is heading back to school either this week or next week. Going back to school brings anxiety to any child, teen or college student. For a child with special needs going back to school is an event more difficult process.
Here are five items that you can send with your child on the first day to help keep him calm and comfortable on the first day of school.
1. Visual & Written Schedule
I have written on the importance of visual schedules in previous posts. Many students with special needs rely on structure and consistency. The first day of school may leave a student feeling anxious or apprehensive because they have not familiarized themselves with the routine of school or of that grade level.
If the student has a basic breakdown of what their day looks like and what to expect, they may enter the school building feeling much more confident. If your child can tell and understand the concept of time, review with them how long they will be at school, what time they will eat lunch, and when you will pick them up.
2. A Small appropriate object from home
Allow your child to carry something familiar or comforting with them that reminds them of home. I often think of the book The Kissing Hand and how loved and secure the baby raccoon felt heading off to school after initially being so anxious and scared simply because his mom kissed his palm and told him to hold his hand up to his cheek any time he starts to feel worried so he’ll be reminded of his mother’s love. What a simple gesture with so much power!
If your child will understand the story maybe read that to them the morning before school starts and re-enact the gesture. If not, give them something small they can carry in their pocket that will remind them how safe and loved they are. I must stress “appropriate” because it may not be okay for your child to bring his favorite toy or stuffed animal depending on the size of the object or the teacher’s preference. If you are unsure, ask your child’s teacher in advance.
3. Lunch from home
We all know many students, especially those with sensory issues, may have an aversion to certain smells, tastes, or textures. The lunchroom can be a particularly daunting place for students with special needs. The rules are different, the noise level can be incredible, the social component may be overwhelming….all of this combined may put your child on overload and could cause a meltdown.
Even if your child does not have difficulty with sensory input, it still may be beneficial to pack a lunch for them filled with some of their favorite foods. Having your child help pack their lunch may also help to get them excited for the first day of school!
4. Note of encouragement in their lunchbox
What a great reminder that you are thinking of them while they face their first day at school! A simple note, even for the “coolest” of kids, will be a sure way to put a smile on their face and warmth in their heart.
5. Pictures/Map of School
Help your child feel comfortable maneuvering around their school and new classes. It may be helpful for your child to first take a tour of the school but if this is not an option, you can take pictures of the school building and important locations within the building (i.e. gymnasium, library, cafeteria, office, etc.) You can also draw a map of the school, focusing on your child’s classroom, if that would be useful for your student.
Melissa Ferry is a special education teacher for Mt. Pleasant Public Schools. She earned her bachelor's degree from Michigan State University with an endorsement in learning disabilities. Melissa is continuing her education at Central Michigan University in pursuit of a Master's Degree. Prior to her career as a teacher Melissa volunteered at Friendship Circle for seven years.