Yep, it’s almost time to rush off to the nearest Office Max and catch the early bird specials on back-to-school supplies. It seems either August is approaching faster than I can grip my mind around or the fact that my son is still staying up until almost 2 a.m. is messing up my own eternal clocks.
Sleep disorder appears to still be getting the best of him. In the summer, we take a break from Melatonin supplements to gauge how he is progressing naturally. This is actually a big improvement from last summer when he would stay awake for 48 hours at a time with four hour sleep intervals. Looks like I might actually be rested enough to make the early bird specials this year!
For the special needs family, going back to school takes real planning and is therefore dreaded by many. Not only do we have to plan the simple task of traveling out and about to get school supplies, but we also have to worry about our child’s daily routine, sleep schedules, re-coordinating therapy that will line up with the bus schedule and ensuring they are not overwhelmed by the thought of returning to school. Many parents have to manage all of this on top of their other children’s schedules and even their own work schedules.
While I have always dreamed of the day that I could simply lay out the new school clothes, set an alarm and shove my kid out the door, just in time to catch the bus, we’re not quite there yet. Even so, here are a few ideas to make back to school something to scrapbook about this year and perhaps even get a few smiles along the way.
- It’s ok to make school shopping a date night.
Sure, you’d prefer the cliché dinner and a movie night, but shopping for school supplies without the kids may leave you feeling equally satisfied as well as save you from a few headaches and evil stares. Have the sitter stay late and grab a bite to eat on the way home.
- Never feel guilty about tossing the Open House invite in the trash.
Let’s face it, you’ll probably forget anyway. Most Open House school events include the whole family and aim to give you the chance to meet your child’s teachers and classmates. This can be too stimulating for the special needs child and even more stressful on parents. You can always email or call your child’s school to arrange a private meeting before or after the Open House to lessen the guilt factor.
- Get back on a schedule and try to stick with it.
The lazy months of summer can’t last forever. Start practicing going to bed early and waking up early a few weeks before school starts. Got a child that begs to differ? Start a reward system for staying on schedule. If you can stick with it too, be sure to reward yourself with a coffee from Starbucks after sending your child to school (on time!) on the first day.
- Run a few “first day of school” drills. Practice makes perfect!
Engage your child in imagination play and pretend tomorrow is the first day of school. Get up early, go through the morning routine and turn your family vehicle into a school bus. Take a family field trip to a local park or museum. When you get home, have your child do some homework about your day.
- Talk to your child about the first day of school.
This is often a step that all parents forget to do. We are so caught up in school starting that sometimes we forget to talk to our child. You may be surprised at how big of a deal a little small talk can be. Even if your kiddo doesn’t or can’t respond back, knowing you are there for them can relieve their anxiety in ways you may not realize.
- Establish open communication with your child’s school team.
Whether a communication log or weekly e-mails work best for you, come up with a plan to stay connected with your child’s team of teachers, aides and school therapists. Test its effectiveness during the second or third week of school. Don’t fret if you’re not getting a good wave of communication on the first week, everyone is overwhelmed the first few weeks and it may take time to establish a connection.
- Review your child’s IEP and create a system to organize this year’s paper trail.
No worries, you won’t be tested. Just review your child’s IEP as a refresher. You’d hate to realize next April that things have not been addressed or realize you were not clear about certain aspects to their IEP. Know that you can call an IEP at any time if issues arise, so keep this year’s paperwork in a folder that you can have easy access to and keep last year’s folder nearby, just in case.
- Plan fall schedules now.
The early bird catches the worm. Managing fall therapy schedules sooner rather than later can ensure there are no gaps in services. While you’re at it, look into after school activities for the cold winter months. Many events and classes for special needs families fill up quick. Look into booking early to avoid being put on wait lists.
You made it through last year, right?
Good luck to all the fellow special needs parents and kids out there starting or returning to school this fall.
Wishing you all easy transitions and great teachers,
Michelle O’Neill, AHSS Skills Coach and Mother of a Special Needs Child (plus 2!)