Settling into school for special needs children can be a difficult time. The change of routine and environment coupled with being away from home isn’t always easy. Whether your child is just starting their school journey or returning to school after the summer holidays, we hope that these 5 top tips will help to make the transition easier for them (and you).
Social stories can be a fantastic tool in helping children with special needs to develop social understanding and prepare them for upcoming events, like a new school year. Don’t be afraid to ask your child’s school or Speech and Language Therapist for photographs or images like PECs, which will help you to create a social story for them. It can be short and sweet or more detailed, depending on what you think will benefit your child. A very basic story might include a photograph or image of your child’s uniform, school bag, their school transport, the school building and their teacher.
Social stories can be reassuring and help prepare your child for special needs education as well as the changes in routine and environment.
Some children with special needs have sensory issues, which can affect their day to day life and how they cope at school.
The texture or feel of certain fabrics can be extremely challenging for some children. SEN schools should be understanding of this and more flexible than mainstream schools in terms of school uniform. It’s important that your child feels comfortable and secure in what they are wearing. From, seamless socks and bandana bibs to adapted polo shirts, there are lots of items available that can help your child to feel comfortable in what they are wearing.
If your child does not like loud noises, consider putting ear defenders in their school bag. And perhaps a certain object that they like the feel or smell of might be comforting for them to bring along too.
It can often be harder for parent carers of children with special needs to meet other parent carers from their child’s school. This can be for a variety of reasons, but a big reason is because school transport puts a stop to meeting others and chatting at the school gates.
Talking to others who ‘get it’ is such a good feeling and can be really helpful. Often parents carers offer the best advice through their experiences. If you can, try to meet other parents and carers from your child’s school. Maybe this could be through setting up a Facebook group, a school PTA or arranging parent ‘meet ups’. It’s great to share advice and ideas that can help your child’s school experience.
A Communication Passport is a person-centred booklet for people who are unable to easily communicate or speak for themselves. It can be paper-based or digital. You can create it yourself or with the help of your child’s Speech and Language Therapist, school or a charity.
There are so many advantages to a Communication Passport. You can use it to explain what sign language your child can use, how to read their reactions and behaviours and explain what they like and dislike. It’s a fantastic tool for parents and teachers to enable and support children within special needs education settings to communicate.
Hopefully the school that your child attends will arrange for you to meet your child’s new teacher either before the term begins or at the beginning of the new term. If this doesn’t happen, don’t be afraid to ask for a meeting with them.
Meeting the teacher and keeping in regular contact with school staff is important so that good communication and relationships are established. You can take the opportunity to speak to the teacher about any behavioural or sensory issues that your child might have and how they communicate and express their needs. You can chat through their communication passport and any concerns that you have. It’s a good idea to write a list of what you would like to discuss beforehand.
If possible it is also beneficial to arrange to bring your child to the school for a visit before the very first day. This will help both of you get comfortable with the layout of the school and the classroom. It can help alleviate some of your child's worries. Your child may have a number of worries such as where the exits are as well as the bathrooms or even what the school looks like, this visit can help to put these at ease. As it will give them time to process the new environment without the school being full of other children. Also try and make visits to the school playground too, this will help establish a fun connection for your child.
Finally, if you can, try to relax and take one day at a time. There can be a lot of anxiety surrounding starting a new school year, but following the tips above can really help. Stay positive, be flexible and remember - school should be a fun and safe place for your child. Don’t be afraid to raise any concerns that you have with the school. It’s important to be patient and go at your own child’s pace.
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Swimming is a fantastic inclusive activity to do with children with special needs. It’s a great sensory experience that is good fun and has positive benefits for both physical and mental health. It is also an activity that can be done all year round and doesn’t have to be weather dependent (depending on where you choose to swim!).