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Getting Your Child with Special Needs Ready for School

  • Published: 2009-09-15 (Revised/Updated 2013-03-24) : Author: Joan Celebi
  • Synopsis: Getting ready for the new school year starts earlier when you have a child with special needs.

Quote: "Tour the building with your child, even if they've been going to this school for years. It helps get them into the school-year mindset, and also helps remind them where things are."

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Getting ready for the new school year starts earlier when you have a child with special needs. There are so many things to plan ahead for, and people to coordinate with. You'll need to start preparing your child, too.

It can all feel overwhelming, and if you're like many parents of children with special needs, it's tempting to put off back-to-school preparations until the first day is just days away. The resulting last-minute flurry of phone calls, errands, and meetings can be exhausting!

This year, let's make the back-to-school process easier. Our Action Steps will focus on simple things you can do now to make this the best transition to the new school year ever, for your child, your family, and you, too.

Today, it's time to start getting the wheels in motion with the school itself - any logistics required to make sure everyone and everything is ready for your child in a few weeks.

Action Steps!

1. Brainstorm a list of everything that needs to happen with school between now and September. Get help from your spouse, significant other, a friend who has a child in the same school/program. Depending on your child's age and abilities, include your him or her as much as possible in this brainstorming step, too.

2. Highlight anything on your list involving a phone call.

3. Start making those phone calls now. Top priority should be given to any call involving scheduling an appointment or a meeting. Calendars fill up fast this time of year!

4. As you set dates and times for appointments and meetings, make arrangements for any childcare you'll need.

5. Look over your list from step 1 and circle anything else you need to get started on now.

Now let's focus our Action Steps on preparing your child for the new school year - and preparing your family for the transition to a new daily routine. My top recommendations:

1. Bring your child to the school. If your child is new to the building, introduce him or her to anyone available, such as the school nurse, administrators, office staff, custodians. If possible, make arrangements in advance for your child's teacher(s) to be there when you visit.

2. Tour the building with your child, even if they've been going to this school for years. It helps get them into the school-year mindset, and also helps remind them where things are - like the doors, bathrooms, cafeteria, gym, nurse's office, and if possible, their new classroom(s). If your child is older, it's a good idea to get their locker number and let them practice opening it a few times.

3. Depending on your child's age and abilities, allow him or her to practice self-advocacy skills. Encourage your son or daughter to ask questions, tell teachers and staff about their classroom needs, and discuss any problems that need to be taken care of before the first day of school, such as a stuck locker, a blocked wheelchair ramp, or a malfunctioning sound system.

4. Get the whole family back on a school-year schedule gradually. Start moving up dinnertime, bedtime, and wake-up time, so the first day of school won't be such a shock! You might also want to have your children help you make a morning checklist (use pictures if your child isn't reading yet) to help them remember everything they need to do on a school morning after they wake up. I also highly recommend having a "Don't Forget" list posted by the door, with key items like backpack, books, lunch, and of course, a smile!

Reference: Joan Celebi originally founded in her capacity as a certified life coach for parents of children with special needs. Her goal is to give you the practical strategies you need for successfully navigating life as a parent of a child with special needs and helps you create a manageable, balanced, and joyful life, for both you and your family. Visit Joan at

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