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Esther Leung
BY Esther Leung

8 Skills That Can Help Your Special Needs Child In School

When a student with special needs attends school, it is not just academics that he or she is faced with learning.  There are independence, life and social skills lessons presented in and out of class-time.

While home and school are not the same environments, there are some things that can be worked on at home that can help your child have more independence and meaningful experiences throughout the school day.

1. Preparing Snacks & Lunch

Include your child in planning and packing snacks and lunch for school.  Give them choices for what can be packed. This is a good opportunity for them to learn about healthy choices and meal planning.  Have them participate in opening, closing and putting items into containers.  Take opportunities to practice unwrapping and ripping open packaged snacks.

Fostering independence at lunch time is important as there may be less supervision or a lunch staff that your child is not familiar with.

2. Writing In The Agenda

Sit down with your child to read what the teacher or child has written about school.  This can help to prepare for homework time and provides opportunity to talk about what happened during the school day.  Write down what was done during homework time.  It models organization and open communication to the teacher. If your child is not comfortable writing, create a checklist that they can check off or mark to show the teacher what was done in the evening.

3. Packing a school bag

As students become older, there is more responsibility for remembering what to take to school and what to bring home.  This may result in students bringing everything or nothing home.  Start at a young age, have your child put 1-2 important items in the school bag.  Slowly increase the items as they age and increase homework starts.  If needed, create a visual checklist for your child to see what items belong in the school bag.

 4. Reading Washroom Signs

Every school has more than one washroom.  Work on having your child recognize the male and female signs.  Work on increasing their comfort using washrooms that have more than one toilet.  Think about the rules and social etiquette that comes when washrooms have more than one stall or urinal.

5. Learning the names of classmates and adults from school

Everything starts with a simple hello.  This may require some help from the teacher in terms of access to photos and names of your child’s classmates and adults that are in regular contact with your child.  This is a great way to teach your child how to initiate interactions with others at school.

6. Asking for help

Instead of providing materials or answers to your child immediately, there is opportunity for your child to learn how to advocate for himself/herself.  If unsure of what to do, students will just sit, get distracted or engage in other activities, which may be perceived as negative behaviors.  It may simply be that they don’t know they can ask for help.  Set up situations at home and take a step back to see if your child will come to you for assistance.  Practice and model ways that they can ask for help.

7. Exposure to age-appropriate interests

Your child may have interests that are his/her peers are not interested in.  While we do not want to minimize the importance of motivators and comfort items, it is important for your child to find and develop mutual interests with peers. Some of the interests may need to be limited and left for home only, especially as a student gets older.  To build relationships with peers, common interests are necessary.

As painful as it may be for the adult, find out what are the popular music, television shows and toys with other students.  It is an opportunity to provide your child with topics of interest that can be shared with their classmates.

8. Activities for Recess or Lunch Period

This is one of those times during the school day that is open-ended for the students.  It is meant to be leisure and social time.  However, it is not always clear to a student who has special needs, what he/she is supposed to do.  There is noise, over-stimulation and many activities that are happening in the playground or in the lunchroom.   Hopefully, there is staff supervision, but it is likely that your child will benefit from extra practice and exposure in this environment.

In addition to finding out what are age-appropriate interests or popular activities at your child’s school.  Practice some of these games and activities with them.  Go to the schoolyard after school or on the weekends to practice.

In Conclusion

These are not things that have to be worked on all at the same time or every day.  Choose one or two things that are interested in and focus on those.  Some items can gradually be added to your routine.  Some of these items can be a nice break between homework items, for the parent and child.

So…. how do you prepare your child for school settings?

Esther Leung

Written on January 22, 2013 by:

Esther Leung is a special needs consultant who has worked with children, youth and families. She has 15 years of experience in a variety of settings including homes, childcare, schools and recreational settings. She now lives in Chicago with her husband and 2 young boys.