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Back to School Tips for Families of Special Needs Children

August 23, 2018
Preschool Services School Age Services School Issues Special Education Special Needs
Back to School Tips for Families of Special Needs Children

As families and their children get ready for the back-to-school transition, there’s a lot to be done to get into a new schedule. The new school year means a new grade, new teachers, and even a new school. Back to school can be an anxiety-provoking time for parents under the best of circumstances. Making sure your kids have the right clothes and the right supplies can be overwhelming, but when you’re the parent of a child with special needs, you have to make sure they have the right program in place, too. Getting organized—both physically and mentally— before the year begins will go a long way toward creating and maintaining peace and success in the year ahead.

We’ve listed below some areas to address in preparing for the school year, along with 50 Tips for School Year Success:

Schedule a special back-to-school meet-and-greet/tour for your child prior to the first day of school
Many children with special needs need prior exposure to new experiences to help ease their anxiety. If this sounds like your child, we recommend reaching out to the school to request a special meeting and/or tour with your child’s teacher. For elementary students, try meeting with teachers, the principal and the school nurse. For middle and high school students, you’ll want to meet with the guidance counselor as well. For many children this is necessary even if they are just moving up a grade into a new classroom, but it is especially important if s/he is undergoing a significant transition. As with the back-to school IEP meeting, it is recommended that you include this special meeting/tour in your child’s IEP accommodations in their IEP every year.

Review your child’s IEP
For children with IEPs, it is important to refamiliarize yourself with the services and accommodations your child will receive in the upcoming school year. The IEP is the cornerstone of your child’s educational program, so it’s important that you have a clear understanding of it. Note when it expires and if your child is up for reevaluation this year. Most importantly, check to make sure that the IEP still reflects your child’s needs.

Meet your child’s new teachers
Special Education Advisor points out that many kids with special needs have some quirks that teachers ought to know about. But your child also has wonderful things about him that the teacher should know as well. Make an appointment to sit down with or schedule a conference call with your child’s new teachers to tell them the good things and the not-so-good things they need to know about your child. Reading a child’s file isn’t the same as learning about him from someone who knows him.

Set up transportation
Special transportation is frequently a service on an IEP, meaning the school will provide transportation other than the regular bus to get your child to her school or special education program. If you haven’t heard yet, check in with the bus company or special education office to get the details about where and when your child will be picked up. Then you can do a “run-through” to make sure your child understands the routine.

Organize all that paperwork
In the world of special education, there are lots of meetings, paperwork, and documentation to keep track of. Try to keep a family calendar of school events, special education meetings, conferences, etc. Setting up a binder or folder to keep your child’s special education documentation, meeting notices, and IEPs in sequential order can also help you stay organized.

Start a communication log
Keeping track of all phone calls, e-mails, notes home, meetings, and conferences is important. Create a “communication log” for yourself in a notebook that is easily accessible. Be sure to note the person you spoke with, dates, times, and nature of the communications you have. It might be useful to send a communication notebook to and from school with your child to help him/her and the teachers keep on top of what’s happening. It’s also a great way to stop playing phone tag with the school and let them know if your child is having a rough day.

Talk and prepare
Just talking about the upcoming year and changes can help reduce some of that back-to-school anxiety! Talk to your child about exciting new classes, activities, and events that they can participate in during the new school year. Children pick up on your mood, expectations, frustrations, and disappointments. Of course, they also pick up on your excitement, pleasure, anticipation, and gratitude. Be sure you are starting the year off in a positive manner. If attending a new school, try to schedule a visit before the first day. With older students, it is sometimes helpful to explain the services and accommodations in their IEP so that they know what to expect when school begins.

Attend school events
Take advantage of Open Houses, Back-to-School Nights, and parent-teacher conferences to help you and your child get a feel for the school and meet the teachers, other staff, students, and families. Share the positives about working with your child, and let the teacher know about changes, events, or IEP concerns that should be considered for your child.

Clothing and weight/compression
Is your child a sensory seeker, or in need of special clothing? Be sure clothing is soft, comfortable, and provides pressure if needed to calm and comfort. Tagless shirts, compression vests, and other sensory-savvy clothing items can help kids adjust and perform at their best. By applying compression to the joints, a compression shirt or garment can provide an all-day hug to calm, engage, and help with focus. If your child has a hard time sitting still, try a wiggle seat, weighted vest, or lap pad. Your student might also like a wiggle cushion or ball chair for school or during homework at home. Sensory filters such as weight and movement can really help children transition well to school and not lose touch with their physical needs.

Behavior and Rules
Talk to your child about school expectations—and yours as well. Be sure your kids know the rules. Have them repeat those rules back to you, so you are clear that they are aware and understand. Give them space to voice any concerns as well. If your child needs assistance with emotional intelligence, regulation, or social communication, be sure to discuss this with the teacher and to give your child ample opportunity to express himself or herself.

Eat Well
Providing a healthy breakfast, lunch, and snack can have a huge impact on how kids perform, as well as on how they feel as they manage their day. Be sure to stock up on easy-to-access fruits and vegetables. In addition to edibles, some students can benefit from a chewy or fidget to have throughout the day to help ease stress.

50 Tips for School Year Success
For some specific strategies to help you and your children get, and stay organized, take a look at these tips:

  1. Set your kids’ sleep schedules back to “School Time” two weeks before the first day.
  2. Get your kids involved in programs that they can do after school to keep them active.
  3. Reacquaint your kids with the calendar schedule they’ll use to manage their activities.
  4. Set up weekly meetings to review your kids’ schedules for the week(s) ahead.
  5. Create a family calendarthat tracks everyone’s activities and commitments.
  6. Refresh your rules about screen time for the school year. What’s allowed and when?
  7. Establish a set “Family Time,” whether it’s during dinner or before bed.
  8. Use an egg timer to get your kids used to focusing for specific periods of time.
  9. Teach your kids to prioritize their assignments by making to-do lists with deadlines.
  10. Set a regular alarm each day that signals the start of homework time.
  11. Discuss what your kids can expect on the first day so they feel more prepared.
  12. Visit the school with your kids so they can get familiar with their new environments.
  13. Include your kids in back-to-school shopping by letting them pick out their items.
  14. Create a dedicated space for your kids to store their school supplies and technology.
  15. Establish a specific space like the family office as the official “homework area.”
  16. Remove distractions like TVs and video game consoles from homework areas.
  17. Repurpose and relabel plastic tubs to organize all school supplies.
  18. Help your kids develop a filing system for organizing their documents for each class.
  19. Set–and enforce–regular weekday and weekend
  20. Set–and enforce–regular weekdayand weekend wake-up alarms.
  21. Keep track of existing extracurricular activities to prevent over-scheduling.
  22. Create a list of fun after-school activities and gamesto keep your kids entertained.
  23. Touch base with teachers early on to troubleshoot any issues your kids may be having.
  24. Create an after-school schedule that allows time for snack, relaxation, play and study.
  25. Establish regular bedtime routines for elementary school kids and preschoolers.
  26. Carve out blocks of fun time for your kids, whether it’s through sports or playdates.
  27. Encourage your kids to lay out their school clothes the night before.
  28. Have your kids pack their school bags before they go to sleep that night.
  29. Have your kids also pack their gym bags the night before and leave them by the door.
  30. If your kids bring their own lunch, pack their lunch boxes before going to bed.
  31. Establish rules for where they should put lunchboxes, etc. when they come home.
  32. Go through your kids’ schoolwork once a month to toss the things you don’t want.
  33. Create an inbox for kids to leave things that need your attention, like permission slips.
  34. Get copies of school menus in advance to discuss lunch choices.
  35. Get your kids involved in creating and preparing their daily lunch menus.
  36. Buy reusable sports bottles to increase their water consumption during the day.
  37. Keep a small emergency allowance in your kids’ bags, just in case.
  38. Use sticky notes to flag important items in kids’ folders that they should pay attention to.
  39. Set your clocks forward 10 minutes. This makes it easier to be on time.
  40. Use positive phrasing, such as “You can go outside after your homework is done,” rather than “You’re not going outside until this is finished.”
  41. Make sure your kids (and you!) have an effective wake-up alarm that works for them.
  42. Set an alarm or notification 30 minutes before bedtime.
  43. Remove mobile devices from kids’ bedrooms to focus them on sleeping.
  44. Set up the breakfast table before you go to bed.
  45. Set up a hanging organizer with five boxes for clothes for each day of the week.
  46. Dedicate a rack in the garage, basement or entry way for sports equipment.
  47. Schedule study blocks on the weekends before big tests, mid-terms and finals.
  48. Talk openly with your kids about their feelings about returning to school.
  49. Do something fun to diffuse this stressful time of year for all of you.
  50. Take a breath!

Your child’s well-being is the most important back-to-school preparation. Addressing sensory, physical, and psychological needs as kids head back to school can help ensure that everyone has a great back-to-school experience. Be sure to address your own as well!


Note: The information in this article is for informational purposes only. It is not an attempt to diagnose or treat any medical condition. If you have any specific questions regarding your child and his/her needs at school, consult your primary care physician.


Ilana Danneman at
LizAlton at    
Lara Cleary at 
Amanda Morin at