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Transitioning Your Child with Special Needs to a New School

Transitioning Your Child with Special Needs to a New School

Moving to a new school for most typical children is filled with excitement and anticipation. The thought of making new friends, getting to know a new teacher, checking out a new building, all sounds very appealing for the most part. But for children with special needs and their parents, the emotions are quite the opposite. There is the fear of the unknown, the question of who you can trust, just the all around anxiety of the process. As my son gets ready to start at a new school this fall, I have thought a lot about how I can best help him transition. These are my tips:

Talk about it a lot

Going to a new school should not come as a surprise to your child. Give her gentle reminders and use what works based on how your child understands things. Take a picture of the outside of the building and show it to her every day as a reminder that this is her new school, or make a countdown calendar. Always talk in a positive, upbeat tone, and be excited about it! The hope is that they will feel and feed off of your positivity. You want her to see this move as something to look forward to.

Bring your child in for a visit

Insist on this—do not take no for an answer! Most schools will be fine with this. Show your child as much as you are allowed to, and give him a few minutes in each location to absorb it—show you’re a child a classroom, walk him around to the therapy rooms, let him see where they will be having lunch, and point out where the school bus will be dropping him off. If the school will permit, snap a few quick pictures of your child in different spots. You can continue to use these at home right up until the first day of school. Having these visuals in the actual space will help him get pictures in their minds.

Drop off their paperwork

We all know that our kids require lots of paperwork to help people understand them better. The only way to ensure everything is there before school starts is to deliver it yourself, whether it’s copies of your child’s IEP (Individualized Education Program), behavior plans, progress reports, evaluations—anything that you think will be important for the new school to have. By doing this, the teachers and the therapists will have the opportunity to hopefully review everything before school begins and start preparing to work with your child. 

Ask the new school for information

Anything at all will be helpful: your child’s daily schedule, or the names of their teachers, therapists, or students in their classes. Take what you can get on this one! It will still be helpful, even if you get it the day before classes begin. Present your child with this information because it may ease some anxiety and allow your child to feel less overwhelmed.

Buy new back-to-school supplies

It’s a new school, get some new supplies! While this may not seem that exciting to some children with special needs, it may mean more than you realize. Have your child pick out a new backpack and lunchbox by giving her options and letting her make the final decision. Label it with her name and show them that it is all ready for their first day of school! Let her pick out new clothes as well and let them pick out their outfit for the first day of school. There might be a connection between the new items and the new school, so make this exciting!
Transitioning to a new school is no small deal by any means, but the hope is that your child will be a little less anxious and will see this as a new adventure.



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Dana Greenberg


 Dana Greenberg is a mom of twins living in Manhattan. Dana's site The Autism Club was created as a way to connect moms who have kids with special needs, like her son Jack--who has autism--and offer them a space to tell their stories. You can follow Dana on Twitter @theautismclub or on Facebook @theautismclub.

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