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BY Jennifer

11 Tips for a Less Stressful School Year

Even on a good day, being a mother of three children challenges my organizational skills.  One of my children has special needs.  Sending my daughter with disabilities to our neighborhood school takes extra organization and planning.

I have discovered an important survival strategy for a happy life–Always get things done ahead of time.  If something is due in two weeks, try to have it completed in a week. This is especially important if you have a child with special needs.  Things often come up with our children with special needs that require all our time and attention.  Doing things at the last minute creates confusion and stress.  Many children (and adults) function better in an orderly and predictable environment.

School begins in a month.  Are you ready?  If you get things done ahead of time, then if the people you are relying on are not prepared, they will have time to get prepared.

  1. Decide where in your house you will be keeping your child’s information about school. This is the place where you will keep this year’s Individualized Educational Plan (IEP), behavioral notes, and notes you take in meetings with teachers and advocates.
  2. Find you child’s IEP (Individualized Educational Plan) document. Re-type the list of the IEP goals into a user-friendly list.  (Children with IEP’s usually have somewhere between 8-15 goals.)  Make twenty copies of these goals.  The first day of school you will give a copy of the IEP goals to the classroom teacher, advocate, spouse/significant other, paraprofessionals, and you will need to have them handy at meetings for reference.  As you hand people the goals, politely explain that the IEP goals are the essential elements of your child’s day so you are sure they would like a copy of them.
  3. Fax a copy of the medication form to the doctor today. Schools require that medications given at school need to be written on a school form signed by your doctor.  Many school districts have this paperwork on their websites.  You probably know which medications your child will need at school.  Doctors get piles of paperwork at the end of August.  Getting your form in early will assure it is done on time.
  4. Does your child need a physical? Many schools do not require yearly health appraisal forms/physicals.  If your child is starting school your child will need a physical and you need to complete a health appraisal form.  You can get this from the office in your child’s school.  Also, many doctor’s offices now have the school forms.  Make sure you and your child’s doctor have completely filled in the health appraisal form and signed it. On the first day of school, schools require proof of updated vaccinations or a signed waiver form (you can get in the office of your child’s school).  If you have an older child participating in sports, print the physical form from your child’s school district’s website or ask the secretary for it.  This will also need to be completed at your child’s doctor appointment.  Make a copy of everything before you turn in the forms.
  5. Shortly after school begins, talk with your child’s teacher. As a classroom teacher, it was part of my job to routinely meet with parents. This included daily communication as well as more formal meetings. If you kindly assure the teacher you are not asking for much of their time, they will be more receptive to meetings with you. Help your child’s teacher feel confident by assuring them you are confident this will be a great year for both your child and the teacher.  However, since your child has special needs, you want to remain informed about your child’s progress.  Requesting a 15-30 minute meeting in person with the teacher at the beginning of each month may help you keep up on your child’s progress.
    You will need to bring extra copies of your child’s IEP goals to the first meeting because it is possible the original list you give the teacher may get misplaced.  Make sure you abide by your agreement to a brief meeting.  Anything brought up in a discussion should be linked to the IEP.  Keep the focus of the meeting on what people at school are doing to help your child reach their goals.  If there are difficulties, ask them how they plan to address the issue using more supports or services.
  6. Tell the teacher about the support services that you expect your child to be receiving. Ask the teacher to have someone keep track of when outside people come to provide service.  For example, one year according to my daughter’s IEP, my daughter was supposed to receive physical therapy once a week.  However, the physical therapist stopped coming to the school.  No one had been noting the dates of her visits, so it was unclear how many days she missed with our daughter.  There can be a simple sign-in form in the classroom for this.  Then you need to check and make sure your child’s services are being provided and people are coming to support the classroom teacher.
  7. You may want to consider having your child fully included right from the beginning so they are there when the teacher is building the classroom community and creating the rules of the classroom. Some children are not fully included at the beginning of the year, but the plan is to “gradually” have them included in a general education classroom.  Transitions tend to be difficult for children with special needs and this process of gradual inclusion requires careful planning. You could ask staff members to plan breaks into your child’s day so they have several scheduled times to leave the room.  However, if you are committed to gradually having your child included, find out the plan for the number of hours and what support your child will have when this happens.  Many parents assume this is happening, only to find out in December that their child has not yet started to be included in a general education classroom.
  8. Every year you are asked to fill in an emergency form on the first day of school and return it to the office.  Have you thought about who will pick up your child from school if they are ill and you cannot be reached?
  9. Does your child need a haircut before school starts? This is difficult for many children with disabilities.  Get this done early this month so your child has less stress before starting school.
  10. If you send in extra clothing, foods, diapers, wipes, and items from home start assembling these things now.
  11. As soon as your school distributes the school supply list, go shopping and get it done. You will have the best selection, nothing will be sold out yet, and you will have a better chance at saving money by having a wider selection.

I enjoy the fresh start of a new school year.  However, as a mother of three children, I have learned that getting things done ahead of time allows us to feel prepared and organized.  I wish you and your child a joyful year of learning!


Written on August 15, 2011 by:

Jennifer Greening, Ed.S. is the author of Opening Doors, Opening Lives: Creating awareness of advocacy, inclusion, and education for our children with special needs. Her book is used in university classes across the country. It received positive reviews from the Autism Society of Michigan and was awarded 2010 Best Books Award Finalist by USA Book News. Visit her website at