Back to school (BTS) is an exciting time for moms, dads, and kids alike. For parents of kids with disabilities, there are a few “extras” such as IEPs, doctors notes, notes on doctors’ notes, therapy schedules and transportation that make that make BTS even more riveting (why is there no font for sarcasm?).
5 tips to help you rock BTS if you have a child in special education:
1. Avoid Meet the Teacher Night. I know what you’re thinking, “BAD MOM!” Right? This was a nightmare for my child with anxiety, and it was flat-out mean to my child in a wheelchair. Imagine every single kid and their parents trying to navigate through the school into a classroom built for 25 students – but this particular night accommodating 40-60 parents and kids. Then picture hunting to find a tiny little name plate showing you where to stow hundreds of bright and shiny new school supplies. All the while, parents are elbowing their way to the Parent-Teacher Conference sign up sheet.
Instead, make an appointment with the principal for a tour of the building and a quick hello to all your child’s teachers (general education and special education), and the nurse just prior to Meet the Teacher Night. Use this time to help your child understand the “hidden curriculum” (things that aren’t taught but kids are expected to know—like how to avoid getting sucked down the automatic toilets, or how to keep the skin on your hands when the blow dryer of destruction goes on by itself, or maybe how to raise your hand before talking).
2. Create and distribute a marketing brochure on your child. Teachers are insanely busy during this period of the year (any time of the year really) so developing a colorful and fun quick read brochure makes your child stand out, in a positive way. This is a fabulous resource when a para professional, bus aide, or other staff doesn’t have ready access to the student’s 25 page Individualized Education Plan (IEP) but needs quick information on how to contact parents or understand the nature of the child’s abilities and exceptionalities.
3. Pack a suitcase filled with snacks and clothes and other essentials. This one might be viewed as overboard, but we did it. Along with the aforementioned brochure, we packed medical supplies and other essentials. We put school supplies in this as well and took it during our “tour” prior to the first day of school to unload it in the nurse’s office. This also allowed for normal looking back to school pictures instead of my 3rd grader looking like she was heading off to the college dorms.
4. Resolve to keep Avery labels and Sharpies, dollar bills and gift cards adequately stockpiled in your car (mine fit inside of a pencil box stowed in our console). . We used sticky labels to slap on our kids’ backpacks to be used as notes to the teacher in a pinch. The dollar bills we used for everything from book fair to breakfast (although we ate religiously at 6:30 a.m. every morning). We also randomly handed out gift cards to thank our teachers and para professionals often because they truly go above and beyond throughout the entire year, not just on appreciation day.
5. Enjoy this time! BTS doesn’t have to be overwhelming. If you’re able, take a vacation day from work on the first day or two of school. This ensures that you are available if there are concerns about your child and also takes the pressure off the hustle and bustle of regular early morning routines. Remember, BTS only happens 12(ish) days throughout your child’s life. Besides, you need to save your strength for those never-ending IEP meetings!