We have reached the back-to-school season! While parents often rejoice when kids return to school, the transition always comes with some challenges.  This is especially true for families with children who have special needs. Here are some tried-and-true tips to help you and your child(ren) make the transition successfully!

The secret to a smooth transition back to school begins at home. When children with special needs are well supported with a well organized home life, they are set up for success in school. Try some or all of these tips:

  1. Maintain a positive attitude about school, especially when speaking with your child. If you view school as valuable and worthwhile, so will they.
  2. Establish regular wake up and bed times. I know you’ve heard this before, but it really works! Try to maintain the same wake up and bed times during the weekends, too. This is not easy, but remember, most children with special needs thrive on a predictable schedule.
  3. Depending on your child’s age and abilities, create verbal or picture schedules for school day AM and PM routines. Laminate several copies!
  4. Make a file or binder with all your child’s current IEP’s, DEC forms, and important teacher/school communications. Occasionally purge documents that are no longer needed.
  5. Make a separate file or binder for all medical-related forms and documents. You may want to bring both binders to IEP meetings. 
  6. If your child has homework, strive to create a calm, clean area for him to do his homework each day. Maintain a quiet, low-stimulus environment free of radio, TV, and other distractions. 
  7. Think about strategies that help your child focus in the classroom. Does your child need fidget toys, activity/motion breaks, pencil grips, or a specific type of chair? Have those things available at home during homework time.
  8. If your child has a lot of supplies that need to be organized, I recommend a clear, over the door hanging shoe organizer. Everything will be easy to find and not stored all over the desk and floor! Find one like this Shoe Organizer on Amazon or at your local retailer.
  9. Make backpack and binder organization a regular part of your evening routine. As a parent of 4 children, I firmly believe this is helpful for all children, but it is especially helpful for children on the autism spectrum or who have other organizational difficulties. As your child gets older, expect him to do more of the organizing tasks. If this is a significant problem for your child, plan to discuss it at your next IEP meeting.
  10. Stay in regular contact with your child’s teachers and Special Ed team. Be sure to print and save all important emails and write notes about phone calls. Include the date on all notes. This record will be invaluable during the IEP process.
  11. Ask your child’s teachers to put the daily schedule on the classroom whiteboard. Any day that there is a schedule change, such as a party or convocation, ask the teacher to make the change on the whiteboard. Never feel guilty asking for accommodations like this, as a clear daily schedule is helpful for all the children in the classroom!
  12. Reward your child for all their efforts to stay on task! Maybe use homework time each Friday afternoon for an enjoyable, age-appropriate treat or outing that you and your child can enjoy together. There’s nothing like positive reinforcement to help your child grow and learn!

If back-to-school organization has been a challenge for you or your child with special needs, take heart and know that most parents struggle in this area. All the time and effort you dedicate to helping your child with school organization tasks will pay off now and in the future. If you need extra help for your child’s specific needs, reach out to your child’s Occupational Therapist for ideas and assistance. Here’s to a wonderful school year!