10 Ways to Prepare for Back to School
By Jodi M. Duke, Ed.D.
Special Education Advocate
It’s that time of year again! It is hard to believe that summer is already winding down, and “Back to School” time is upon us! In order to help you and your child with Angelman Syndrome have the best year possible, I’ve assembled a list of 10 ways to prepare for back to school.
1. Create a one-page profile of your child to share with teachers and other school staff. I like to think of what a child would normally tell his or her new teachers during the first days of school and include as much of that information as possible on these profiles. Instead of listing strengths and needs, include what you admire about your child, what’s important to your child, and how best to support him or her. Use clip art to include your child’s favorite things and insert your favorite pictures to personalize this and showcase your child’s personality. You can find more information on the one-page profile at http://www.helensandersonassociates.co.uk/reading-room/how/person-centred-thinking/one-page-profiles.aspx
2. Create a gesture and communication dictionary to share with your child’s teachers and school staff. Many children with AS have developed their own systems of communicating, and it can take some time for new teachers to learn what each gesture and communication effort means. Provide a simple list of your child’s gestures/communication behaviors, including what each behavior means and how the receiver should respond. Make sure to include behaviors specific to mealtime, toileting, and health issues. The folks at Praactical AAC have a fabulous template already created that you can download and fill in for your child! http://praacticalaac.org/strategy/strategy-of-the-month-back-to-school-with-aac/
3. Don’t forget the bus drivers and school nurse! There are some items that you will want to share with these folks in addition to the other resources that you have created. Nurses will need to know about your child’s medications, special diets, seizure issues, and any other medical considerations that might come up during the school day. Make sure to talk to the nurse about the best ways to calm or soothe your child if they aren’t feeling well, how your child prefers to take medication, and any routines that might help when health issues arise. Talk with bus drivers about how to use your child’s AAC on the bus to engage them in conversation during the ride. There is nothing worse than a long bus ride with nobody talking to you or interacting, so work with the bus driver, bus assistant, and school team to develop a plan for social engagement on the bus.
4. Establish a communication plan with your child’s teacher. One of the easiest ways to ensure daily communication is the old-fashioned black and white composition book, which goes in your child’s backpack each day. You write about what happens at home and the teachers write about what happens in school. This summer, one family that I work with was lucky enough to work with a teacher who sent a daily email listing what the children did each day and included a link to a Shutterfly account where she posted pictures! Whether you opt for low or high tech, the important thing is that you have an established way to communicate on a daily basis.
5. Start preparing now! Gradually move bedtimes and wakeup times earlier so that the morning routine will be in place by the time school starts (this is as much for the parents as it is for your children). Take your child to the school playground for a picnic and playtime. Invite other children from your child’s class, if you know them. Take your child shopping for school supplies…and let them have that crazy leopard print notebook that they choose!
6. Create a transition book that will remind your child of what to expect at school. This is especially important for children that are starting a new school, but can also help ease anxiety and remind children of the routines. I like to create these in PowerPoint, and then have a peer record narration, so that students can view them on a laptop, iPad, or other device or print them out in a more traditional book format. I have also created a few of these in the app Kid in Story that allows you to include the child’s picture in the story and easily create voice recording. Regardless of the format, you want to include photos of the child’s school, including classroom, gym, specials, cafeteria, playground, and any other areas that will be visited daily.
7. Introduce yourself to all service providers and encourage them to contact you as needed. A small plate of treats with a little note goes a long way towards establishing a positive relationship!
8. Request an IEP meeting in mid-October to review progress. Did you know that you can request an IEP meeting anytime? I like to give schools about 6 weeks to get to know a student and then have a meeting to discuss how things are going. This is another wonderful opportunity to take a look at the IEP goals, accommodations, and other supports that are in place and decide if any changes need to be made.
9. Become a part of the school community. Check out the school’s website for information on volunteering, joining the PTA, and any school events that are coming up. Most schools organize some type of family activity in the fall, and it is a great way to meet other parents and begin to feel like you belong. I always recommend that parents ask about volunteering as well, if time permits. It is a wonderful way to get to know faculty and staff and see how your child is doing during the school day!
10. Do your best to relax and enjoy the remaining days of summer! Our children can feel when we are stressed or anxious, so one of the best ways to ease their transition back to school is to try to control our own emotions. So sit back, try to relax, and take a deep breath…it’s going to be a great year!