Tips for Going Back to School With Special Needs


Published:

My anxiety kicks in as the countdown to a new school year begins, as if the tardy bell has sounded and I'm just walking in the door. What will the teacher be like? Will the other children be nice? How much homework will there be, and will my child be able to do it? What will happen at recess? It's unnerving, more now as a mom than when I climbed on to the big yellow bus myself.

For some children, it's simple. They might be naturally social, follow and understand directions easily, or enjoy a challenge. Others, however, may have difficulty following multistep directions, have speech issues that make it challenging to banter with other students, or struggle to sit at a desk and focus on their work.

For parents of children with special needs, starting a new school year can come with increased anxieties. If the difference is physical, the student often has to deal with alternate equipment and the understanding that they may incur limits. Other students might have an aide that stays with them or they may be pulled out of the general education classroom periodically. Students with food allergies may not be able to enjoy birthday treats or food from the cafeteria.

These differences can make for an apprehensive start. The good news, however, is many of these issues resolve themselves, and parents tend to worry about things more than children do.

One thing I know for sure is I never let on to my son that I have these anxieties. I'm all smiles until he's gone, which is when I break down and panic.

Here are some tips for helping your child with special needs acclimate to the new school year:

Consider school routines and expectations weeks before school begins.

Jean Winegardner, mother of an autistic son and blogger at www.stimeyland.com, offers sound advice: "One great way to make sure your child gets a good start on the school year is to maintain a routine over the summer. If you can't keep it up the whole summer, start a couple of weeks before school starts. Do circle time in your living room. Do fun practice worksheets. Get him or her back in the school groove so the transition is easier."

Stephanie Mihalas, psychologist and founder of The Center for Well-Being: Psychological Services for Children, Youth and Families, agrees about reinforcing school behavior at home. "Sitting 'crisscross applesauce' and walking in line will be expected at school," she says. "Practicing these behaviors at home is easy and helpful for your child."

Introduce the school to your child before the first bell rings.

Author Chantal Sicile-Kira has more than 25 years of firsthand experience with children with special needs. Her autistic son graduated from high school last spring. Her newest book, 41 Things To Know About Autism, provides help for families.

"Prime your child by talking to him or her about the upcoming school year, the teacher and expectations, as well as any fears or concerns your child has," she recommends. "Creating a photo album together or writing social stories can be very helpful. Even if your child does not have good communication skills or is nonverbal, he or she can learn to understand and make the connection, so it is worth the effort to take the extra time to do this."

Another strategy Sicile-Kira found useful was taking her son to school and pointing out landmarks he could use to navigate around campus. The school will look different when hundreds of students are there, and a child who may get distracted or struggle with locating classrooms will benefit from this simple trick.

Introduce yourself and the disability to the school staff.

Winegardner suggests getting to know the principal or assistant principal. "In my son's case, behavioral incidents get referred to the assistant principal, so I make sure that I have a good relationship with her," she says.

She also suggests meeting with your child's therapy team before the year starts to express your concerns and thoughts. Winegardner offers the teacher a document outlining her son's likes and dislikes, his strengths and struggles, and any other pertinent information.

Many websites, such as www.apraxia-kids.org, actually provide letters to print and hand to teachers and faculty that explain the disability and offer suggestions to use with students who have particular special needs. For illnesses or disabilities not widely known, creating a short list of facts and resources can help teachers understand how they can help your child adjust to the classroom.

Review the IEP, and be sure services are scheduled and followed.

"Review your child's IEP (individualized education program) document to refresh your memory about what the goals are," Sicile-Kira says. "If you have any questions as to how the IEP will be implemented, get a list going to communicate your questions to the person responsible. If your child is to receive aide support as stipulated by the IEP, it would be a good idea to contact the administrator to ensure that an aide has been assigned. If specific training has been specified in the IEP, ask if the aide has been trained or when the training will take place."

Check your attitude.

Diane Talbot, a learning specialist, suggests starting the school year with an informed but open attitude. "Sometimes a parent who has had previous bad experiences brings that along and immediately creates a hostile situation," she says. "There are bad teachers out there, but most of us are caring and want your child to be successful."

Follow through with teacher meetings, but also with suggestions you are given.

"If the teacher offers advice on activities you could do with your child, take the advice," Talbot says. "Get informed and read books on how you can help your child. Make sure they eat right and get plenty of rest. Read, read, read to them. Did I mention read to them? Play games and talk to them. Cook with them, make art projects, kick back and watch the clouds together. Between us, we can help your child achieve and learn."

Although sending your child into a new situation can be unsettling, preparing your student, whether he or she has a special need or not, is the best bet for a great school year. The trick is to not go overboard. Be sure to enjoy the rest of the summer with your child and remain positive. The butterflies will only last a few moments for your child, and within weeks, yours will be settled, too.  n

Julia Garstecki enjoys her career as an educator and freelance writer, but prefers hanging out with her two children.


Tips for starting school with older students

Chantal Sicile-Kira, author of 41 Things To Know About Autism and the mother of a high school graduate with autism, offers the following tips for parents of older students who have special needs:

*     Get a planner for your tween or teen. Many middle and high schools have a homework planner, and your teen can use this to keep track of homework assignments.

*     Show your teen how to write his assignments in the planner and reinforce when he does this throughout the school year.

*     Designate a spot in your child's backpack for forms, notes and so on that come home from school, and make sure your teen and the school staff know where that is.

*     If your tween or teen is fully included in a middle or high school that follows block scheduling by day, you may wish to consider having two separate backpacks for the two different block days.

Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit ModuleShow Tags

Related Content

Fun Things to Do With the Kids July 15-18

July 15-18: Food Truck Flicks, North Hills Kids in the Park, Summer Storytime and Pizza and a Movie at the Halle

Sunflower Fields Forever at Dix Park

Get ready for Raleigh’s best photo op. Sunflowers are blooming at Dorothea Dix Park.

Weekend Family Fun Across the Triangle

Check out Destination SunFest, For Goodness Snakes, an NC Courage home game and a Pollinator Walk.
Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit ModuleShow Tags

Calendar

July 2019

More than 1,300 makers from around the globe will gather to learn, share, and celebrate lathe-turned work. And with this year’s record-breaking turnout, it will be the largest woodturning...

Cost: Free

Where:
Raleigh Convention Center
500 S. Salisbury St.
Raleigh, NC  27601
View map »


Website »

More information

“A Teddy Bears' Picnic” is a song with a 1907 melody by American composer John Walter Bratton and lyrics written by Irish songwriter Jimmy Kennedy in 1932. It remains popular as a...

Cost: Free

Where:
Historic Yates Mill County Park
4620 Lake Wheeler Road
Raleigh, NC  27603
View map »


Sponsor: Historic Yates Mill County Park
Telephone: 919-856-6675
Website »

More information

Join Mindful Families of Durham, a Buddhist-inspired spiritual community that supports area parents, caregivers, and their children in the practice of mindfulness and the understanding of the...

Cost: Free

Where:
Erwin Road
Durham, NC  27705
View map »


Sponsor: Mindful Families of Durham
Contact Name: Adam, Laura, Josh, Sumi
Website »

More information

Ages 18 months-5 years with special needs enjoy educational and therapeutic toys with caregiver. 

Cost: Free

Where:
Flaherty Park Community Center
1226 N. White St.
Wake Forest, NC  27587
View map »


Website »

More information

Ages 18 months-5 years with special needs enjoy educational and therapeutic toys with caregiver. 

Cost: Free

Where:
Flaherty Park Community Center
1226 N. White St.
Wake Forest, NC  27587
View map »


Website »

More information

Sign up for a Raleigh scavenger hunt and put on your best Nick Cage impression as you seek out the national treasures hidden in Raleigh. Via an app, be guided through the cultural, historical,...

Cost: See website for fees

Where:
Downtown Raleigh
500 S. Salisbury St.
Raleigh, NC  27601
View map »


Sponsor: LetsRoam!
Telephone: 833-202-7626
Contact Name: LetsRoam!
Website »

More information

Cary’s popular food truck rally also features music from local performers.

Cost: Free

Where:
Downtown Cary
, NC  27511


Website »

More information

Enjoy food trucks and live music in Downtown Park.

Cost: Free

Where:
Downtown Park
319 S. Academy St.
Cary, NC  27511
View map »


Website »

More information

Enjoy an evening of jazz music, improvisation and collage inspired by the art of Romare Bearden with music from the Raleigh Jazz Orchestra. Romare Bearden was born in Charlotte, NC and drew...

Cost: Free

Where:
Borden Building and Grounds
820 Clay Street
Raleigh, NC  27605
View map »


Sponsor: Historic Resources and Museum Programs
Telephone: 919-996-4364
Contact Name: Borden Building at Fletcher Park
Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

Ages 11-17 make comfort foods inspired by the South. Register online. Choose course #124743.

Cost: $44/resident, $57/nonresident

Where:
Herbert C. Young Community Center
101 Wilkinson Ave.
Cary, NC
View map »


Website »

More information

Drop by the cybrary for storytime with a librarian. Activity Room 4. Preschool and kindergarten ages. No registration necessary. 

Cost: Free

Where:
Carrboro Cybrary
100 N Greensboro St
Carrboro, NC  27510
View map »


Sponsor: Orange County Public Library
Telephone: 919-918-7387
Contact Name: Cybrary
Website »

More information

Ages 18 months-5 years with special needs enjoy educational and therapeutic toys with caregiver. 

Cost: Free

Where:
Flaherty Park Community Center
1226 N. White St.
Wake Forest, NC  27587
View map »


Website »

More information

Ages 18 months-5 years with special needs enjoy educational and therapeutic toys with caregiver. 

Cost: Free

Where:
Flaherty Park Community Center
1226 N. White St.
Wake Forest, NC  27587
View map »


Website »

More information

Sign up for a Raleigh scavenger hunt and put on your best Nick Cage impression as you seek out the national treasures hidden in Raleigh. Via an app, be guided through the cultural, historical,...

Cost: See website for fees

Where:
Downtown Raleigh
500 S. Salisbury St.
Raleigh, NC  27601
View map »


Sponsor: LetsRoam!
Telephone: 833-202-7626
Contact Name: LetsRoam!
Website »

More information

The world famous Glenn Miller Orchestra brings timeless classics like In the Mood, Moonlight Serenade, Chattanooga Choo Choo, Pennsylvania 6-5000, String of Pearls and Tuxedo Junction back to the...

Cost: $50-$70/person

Where:
Duke Energy Center for the Performing Arts
2 East South Street
Raleigh, NC  27601
View map »


Sponsor: Duke Energy Center for the Performing Arts
Telephone: 919-996-8700
Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

Enjoy storytime with Amy Godfrey. 

Cost: Free

Where:
Locopops Dessert Cafe
2618 Hillsborough St.
Durham, NC  27705
View map »


Website »

More information

Ages 18 months-5 years with special needs enjoy educational and therapeutic toys with caregiver. 

Cost: Free

Where:
Flaherty Park Community Center
1226 N. White St.
Wake Forest, NC  27587
View map »


Website »

More information

Ages 18 months-5 years with special needs enjoy educational and therapeutic toys with caregiver. 

Cost: Free

Where:
Flaherty Park Community Center
1226 N. White St.
Wake Forest, NC  27587
View map »


Website »

More information

Sign up for a Raleigh scavenger hunt and put on your best Nick Cage impression as you seek out the national treasures hidden in Raleigh. Via an app, be guided through the cultural, historical,...

Cost: See website for fees

Where:
Downtown Raleigh
500 S. Salisbury St.
Raleigh, NC  27601
View map »


Sponsor: LetsRoam!
Telephone: 833-202-7626
Contact Name: LetsRoam!
Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

Preschoolers (ages 3-5 with accompanying adult) meet a real turtle and hike to see others.  Play turtle games and bring home a rock 'turtle' in a terrarium you design. Preregister online using...

Cost: $5

Where:
Wilkerson Nature Preserve
5229 Awls Haven Drive
Raleigh, NC  27614
View map »


Sponsor: City of Raleigh Parks, Recreation and Cultural Resources
Telephone: 919-996-6764
Contact Name: Marti Kane
Website »

More information

Ages 18 months-5 years with special needs enjoy educational and therapeutic toys with caregiver. 

Cost: Free

Where:
Flaherty Park Community Center
1226 N. White St.
Wake Forest, NC  27587
View map »


Website »

More information

Ages 18 months-5 years with special needs enjoy educational and therapeutic toys with caregiver. 

Cost: Free

Where:
Flaherty Park Community Center
1226 N. White St.
Wake Forest, NC  27587
View map »


Website »

More information

Sign up for a Raleigh scavenger hunt and put on your best Nick Cage impression as you seek out the national treasures hidden in Raleigh. Via an app, be guided through the cultural, historical,...

Cost: See website for fees

Where:
Downtown Raleigh
500 S. Salisbury St.
Raleigh, NC  27601
View map »


Sponsor: LetsRoam!
Telephone: 833-202-7626
Contact Name: LetsRoam!
Website »

More information

Enjoy tea time for the whole family. Samples of hot tea, cold tea, and kombucha will be provided, along with games and family fun.

Cost: Free

Where:
IngenuiTea Kombucha Coffee & Tea
514 E Williams St
APEX, NC  27502
View map »


Sponsor: IngenuiTea Brews
Telephone: 919-438-3684
Contact Name: Mark Poole
Website »

More information

In The Wild with Dan The Animal Man Dan brings his wild animals to Clinton, NC, followed by a free community cookout, Wednesday, July 17. 1017 Sunset Avenue, Clinton, NC 28328 (Between Pizza...

Cost: Free

Where:
Immanuel
1017 Sunset Ave
Clinton, NC  28328
View map »


Telephone: 910-592-3854
Contact Name: Will Matthews
Website »

More information

Ages 11 and older with special needs enjoy yoga and breathing exercises. Register online. Choose course #125023.

Cost: $9/resident, $11/nonresident

Where:
Bond Park Community Center
801 High House Rd.
Cary, NC  27513
View map »


Website »

More information

Join park staff for an informal fishing experience for the whole family. Bring your own poles or borrow one of ours through the Tackle Loaner Program. Bait and basic instruction are provided. All...

Cost: FREE

Where:
Lake Crabtree County Park
1400 Aviation Pkwy.
Morrisville, NC  27560
View map »


Sponsor: Lake Crabtree County Park
Telephone: 919-460-3355
Contact Name: Carol Cunningham
Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

Kids ages 6-9 discover the creatures that live in the pond and streams at the Preserve.  The focus will be hands-on outdoor investigation and the study of living things in their habitat. ...

Cost: $5

Where:
Wilkerson Nature Preserve
5229 Awls Haven Drive
Raleigh, NC  27614
View map »


Sponsor: City of Raleigh Parks, Recreation and Cultural Resources
Telephone: 919-996-6764
Contact Name: Marti Kane
Website »

More information

Ages 18 months-5 years with special needs enjoy educational and therapeutic toys with caregiver. 

Cost: Free

Where:
Flaherty Park Community Center
1226 N. White St.
Wake Forest, NC  27587
View map »


Website »

More information

Ages 18 months-5 years with special needs enjoy educational and therapeutic toys with caregiver. 

Cost: Free

Where:
Flaherty Park Community Center
1226 N. White St.
Wake Forest, NC  27587
View map »


Website »

More information

Parent and child ages 2-5 water plants in the native wildflower gardens. Register online. Choose course #124907.

Cost: Free

Where:
Stevens Nature Center/Hemlock Bluffs
2616 Kildaire Farm Rd.
Cary, NC
View map »


Telephone: 919-387-5980
Website »

More information

Sign up for a Raleigh scavenger hunt and put on your best Nick Cage impression as you seek out the national treasures hidden in Raleigh. Via an app, be guided through the cultural, historical,...

Cost: See website for fees

Where:
Downtown Raleigh
500 S. Salisbury St.
Raleigh, NC  27601
View map »


Sponsor: LetsRoam!
Telephone: 833-202-7626
Contact Name: LetsRoam!
Website »

More information

Ages 11 and older with special needs learn the basics of archery. Register online. Choose course #124599.

Cost: $15/resident, $20/nonresident

Where:
Bond Park Community Center
801 High House Rd.
Cary, NC  27513
View map »


Website »

More information

TreeRunner Raleigh’s Adventure Park Glow Night returns in July with an adventurous Safari theme! Join the TreeRunner staff and dress up in safari-themed attire. Reserve your spot early...

Cost: General Admission

Where:
TreeRunner Raleigh
12804 Norwood Rd
Raleigh, NC  27613
View map »


Sponsor: N/A
Telephone: 919-410-7347
Contact Name: Jami Sowers

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

Ages 14-17 learn basic cooking skills and use a recipe to create a delicious dish. Register online.

Cost: $40

Where:
The Poe Center for Health Education
224 Sunnybrook Rd.
Raleigh, NC  27610
View map »


Website »

More information

Ages 11 and older with special needs stroll through the woods. Register online. Choose course #124384.

Cost: $2/resident, $3/nonresident

Where:
Stevens Nature Center/Hemlock Bluffs
2616 Kildaire Farm Rd.
Cary, NC  27518
View map »


Website »

More information

Ages 18 months-5 years with special needs enjoy educational and therapeutic toys with caregiver. 

Cost: Free

Where:
Flaherty Park Community Center
1226 N. White St.
Wake Forest, NC  27587
View map »


Website »

More information

Ages 18 months-5 years with special needs enjoy educational and therapeutic toys with caregiver. 

Cost: Free

Where:
Flaherty Park Community Center
1226 N. White St.
Wake Forest, NC  27587
View map »


Website »

More information

Sign up for a Raleigh scavenger hunt and put on your best Nick Cage impression as you seek out the national treasures hidden in Raleigh. Via an app, be guided through the cultural, historical,...

Cost: See website for fees

Where:
Downtown Raleigh
500 S. Salisbury St.
Raleigh, NC  27601
View map »


Sponsor: LetsRoam!
Telephone: 833-202-7626
Contact Name: LetsRoam!
Website »

More information

Take the fast track to nature in this hands-on study of ecology. Ages 8-12. Register online. Choose course #124971.

Cost: $9/resident, $12/nonresident

Where:
Stevens Nature Center/Hemlock Bluffs
2616 Kildaire Farm Rd.
Cary, NC
View map »


Telephone: 919-387-5980
Website »

More information

Enjoy a party and summer movie under the stars. Purchase advance tickets online. 

Cost: $7/nonmember. Free for members and ages 6 and younger.

Where:
North Carolina Museum of Art
2110 Blue Ridge Road
Raleigh, NC  27607
View map »


Website »

More information

Support local artists as they perform in Wake Forest.

Cost: $5/person

Where:
Renaissance Centre for the Arts
405 Brooks St.
Wake Forest, NC  27587
View map »


Website »

More information

Support local artists as they perform in Wake Forest.

Cost: $5/person

Where:
Renaissance Centre for the Arts
405 Brooks St.
Wake Forest, NC  27587
View map »


Website »

More information

Celebrate World Jump Day on July 19th at Sky Zone Durham with Buy 1 Get 1 Free offer on Open jump and GLOW jump.

Cost: See website for fees

Where:
1720 Guess Road
Durham, NC  27701


Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

Shop for local handmade arts and crafts from local vendors. 

Cost: Free

Where:
Durham Central Park
501 Foster St.
Durham, NC  27701
View map »


Website »

More information

"In every flower, every stem, every leaf, a world to discover that's beyond belief!" In the Dr. Suess story, Horton the elephant finds a tiny world on a clover flower. Just like "whos", insects...

Cost: FREE

Where:
Lake Crabtree County Park
1400 Aviation Pkwy.
Morrisville, NC  27560
View map »


Sponsor: Lake Crabtree County Park
Telephone: 919-460-3355
Contact Name: Carol Cunningham
Website »

More information

North Carolina's food history and heritage take center stage for the day with barbecue and pie competitions, live music, arts and crafts vendors, kids' games, living history reenactors,...

Cost: Free

Where:
Duke Homestead
2828 Duke Homestead Rd.
Durham, NC  27705
View map »


Website »

More information

Step back in time with our 19th-century costumed interpreters and watch the millstones at work grinding corn into meal. Tour fee: $5/Adult, $4/Senior (ages 60 & over), $3/Child (ages 7-16),...

Cost: $5/Adult, 4$/Senior (60+), $3/Child (7-16), 6&Younger Free

Where:
Historic Yates Mill County Park
4620 Lake Wheeler Road
Raleigh, NC  27603
View map »


Sponsor: Historic Yates Mill County Park
Telephone: 919-856-6675
Website »

More information

Preschoolers (ages 3-5 accompanied by an adult) meet a real turtle and hike to see others.  Play turtle games and bring home a rock 'turtle' in a terrarium you design. Preregister online using...

Cost: $5

Where:
Wilkerson Nature Preserve
5229 Awls Haven Drive
Raleigh, NC  27614
View map »


Sponsor: City of Raleigh Parks, Recreation and Cultural Resources
Telephone: 919-996-6764
Contact Name: Marti Kane
Website »

More information

Ages 18 months-5 years with special needs enjoy educational and therapeutic toys with caregiver. 

Cost: Free

Where:
Flaherty Park Community Center
1226 N. White St.
Wake Forest, NC  27587
View map »


Website »

More information

Ages 18 months-5 years with special needs enjoy educational and therapeutic toys with caregiver. 

Cost: Free

Where:
Flaherty Park Community Center
1226 N. White St.
Wake Forest, NC  27587
View map »


Website »

More information

Enjoy a fun, festive and family-friendly event featuring a replica of the space suit worn by Neil Armstrong (step inside! perfect for photo ops!), educational activities, complimentary refreshments...

Cost: Free

Where:
Morgan Imports
113 S. Gregson St.
Durham, NC
View map »


Website »

More information

Commemorate the 50th anniversary of the moon landing with kids programs, a bungee jump station, demos, food trucks and much more.  p.p1 {margin: 0.0px 0.0px 0.0px 0.0px; font: 13.0px...

Cost: Free

Where:
North Carolina Museum of History
5 E. Edenton Street
Raleigh, NC  27502
View map »


Website »

More information

Sign up for a Raleigh scavenger hunt and put on your best Nick Cage impression as you seek out the national treasures hidden in Raleigh. Via an app, be guided through the cultural, historical,...

Cost: See website for fees

Where:
Downtown Raleigh
500 S. Salisbury St.
Raleigh, NC  27601
View map »


Sponsor: LetsRoam!
Telephone: 833-202-7626
Contact Name: LetsRoam!
Website »

More information

Create your own apron and bake your own individual cake. Register online. Choose course #124900.

Cost: $35/resident, $45/nonresident

Where:
Herbert C. Young Community Center
101 Wilkinson Ave.
Cary, NC
View map »


Website »

More information

For almost 200 years, farmers brought their wheat and corn to what is now Yates Mill to have their grains ground into flour and meal. Today, you can stop by the Yates Mill visitor center to see a...

Cost: Free

Where:
Historic Yates Mill County Park
4620 Lake Wheeler Road
Raleigh, NC  27603
View map »


Sponsor: Historic Yates Mill County Park
Telephone: 919-856-6675
Website »

More information

Enjoy a summer movie under the stars to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the moon landing. Purchase advance tickets online. 

Cost: $7/nonmember. Free for members and ages 6 and younger.

Where:
North Carolina Museum of Art
2110 Blue Ridge Road
Raleigh, NC  27607
View map »


Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...
Edit Module Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit ModuleShow Tags

Directories

Edit ModuleShow Tags Edit ModuleShow Tags

Annual Guides

Education Guide

The 2018-19 Education Guide offers 678 education resources in the Triangle, including area preschools, private schools, public school systems, charter schools, boarding schools, academic resources and an Exceptional Child special section.

The Triangle Go-To Guide

Our Triangle Go-To Guide connects you to family fun resources across the Triangle. In our 2019-20 issue, explore 1,028 resources for family fun.