Back to school jitters are common to all kids, but as special needs children head back to school, many of their parents are acting to preempt predictable problems. They’re preparing informational packets for their kids’ teachers that go beyond diagnosis to include specific clues to their child’s personality that will help teachers neutralize problems before they escalate.
Karen Antone of New Jersey, whose son Phillip has autism, describes her process. “Every year I send a letter in. Transition was one of the big issues Phillip had; now it’s focus and attention. By them knowing what he likes, it helps to motivate him when he could get stuck at times. If he gets a little frustrated, a joke or funny face may bring him back on track — Phillip’s got a great sense of humor.”
Hannah Piasecki has Down Syndrome. Part of her mother Vera’s ongoing process is to keep binders with current and previous IEPs, evaluations and printed emails between the district and herself. “The organization has to be continuous,” she says. “You always need that point of reference, in print, to go back and say ‘This is something we said we were going to work on, and we’re not seeing any result or this isn’t happening.’”
Just as concerned about children having a good school experience are the teachers and supervisors. One recommendation of Donna Stump, director of special services for Brick Township Public Schools, is that parents “talk to their kids about ‘what-ifs’ — unexpected scenarios that might arise and cause upset or, worse, a meltdown. For example (a parent might tell the child): ‘I am going to pick you up from school today, but if I am late, it is because I got stuck in traffic. Just remember I am on my way, and don’t get upset.’”
Encouraging others, Karen Antone, who also is co-leader of Middletown Township Friends of Different Learners [love that phrase], adds, “It’s helpful when parents have something to offer. A suggestion, a solution: Here are some possible ways we can make this work.”
••• What are some of the things you do to prepare your child and his teacher for a good school experience?