A Special (Education) Back to School List

Mothers everywhere are filling carts and baskets with new binders, matching folders, 24 pre-sharpened #2 pencils (seriously, this is on our list), and a planner to help with homework that none of our kids will use. Nearly $150 later, your child is ready to go back to the routine they hate and we love. It’s pretty standard practice: one child, one class, one massive Target receipt.

But, if you are the parent of a child who has an IEP, back to school gets a little nerve racking. Special education (SPED) has a high turnover rate.  Our well-intentioned, highly qualified classroom teachers leave the profession well before their general education counterparts. And, they are just one piece of our child’s puzzle. Speech pathologists, occupational therapists, and those wonderful aides who guide our children one-on-one into general education settings change classrooms and districts leaving parents incredibly anxious about who will be on their child’s team for the next 180 days.  So, like most of our experiences with our special children, we have more work to do to get ready for school. Don’t worry, SPED parents, as your friendly neighborhood advocate, and SPED mom, I have some tips and tricks for you. 

Three More Things To Add To Your Supply List

The goal for the beginning of the school year is to create an easy transition from the lawlessness of summer to the structured days of fall. It is our job to make sure our children are seen as students, not qualifying diagnoses. 

  • Get new Releases of Information (ROI): That precious paper that allows your school team to coordinate with your private providers needs to be completed at the start of every year. All children benefit when they receive consistent messages from all adults. It takes away their superpower of “that’s not how my teacher does it” when we try to help with homework. SPED families rely on multiple experts to help our children thrive in school. But, some work outside of the educational setting. Parents need to provide schools with NEW releases every school year. You can often find these documents by navigating through the district’s website. Then, sign one release for each outside provider, including your advocate, to send to school on the first day. 
  • Create a brag book: You need to tell your new team all of the amazing things your child has learned to do when not challenged by academic goals. Climbing a wall, blowing bubbles in the water, and playing
    Jacob (circa 2017) facing sensory issues, literally head to toe, to climb a wall.
    superheroes with cousins. My son learned all of these skills over a summer break. As an advocate, I can translate these accomplishments to match his IEP goals. Climbing grew core muscles needed for posture and attentiveness. Blowing bubbles showed ability to create shapes needed for speech goals. Playing superheroes showed imaginary play skills with typical peers that checked off his social work goals for the previous years. SPED parents get trapped in a vicious cycle of highlighting deficits that keep justifying our minutes with specialists. Let’s start the year showing off what our kids can do and let the experts re-draft goals and elevate expectations to match. 
  • Re-order your day: Use the last week to mirror the demands of a school schedule and classroom expectations. In a presentation about kindergarten readiness, I give parents a simple directive, “Raise your left hand,” but mandate they wait 3 to 5 seconds before complying. The discomfort is palpable. Far from a sadistic exercise, this experience shows parents how long it takes typical children to process a request and respond properly.  Our special students may have real challenges processing information or managing the sensory expectations that come from performing tasks. But, as parents, we forget to give them the time necessary, more than the 5 seconds needed by typical peers. We tend to get overwhelmed with getting from school to…gymnastics, the grocery store, and home in order to eat, play, bathe, and get to sleep at a reasonable time before repeating. (Normally, I would create an exaggerated fictional scenario to make a point. In this case, that is Jacob’s Monday.) Start having your student independently get ready for errands and complete multistep tasks as a great back-to-school crash course. 

Spark Note Summary

A lifetime in the classroom followed by a new lifetime as an advocate means I have spent 4 decades on an academic calendar. So, this month is REALLY the start of a new year with new hope and promises to make this year the best one yet! Most of us special parents know that just means trading one set of struggles for another one. But, with fingers crossed, I’m hoping these back to school tricks will start your new year off with one less stress on your back to school list.

Published by

Amy Slutzky

This blog is about incorporating practical mental health boosters in your everyday routine. I am a wife, mother, sister…I am a counselor, teacher, advocate…I am a sci-fi geek, a public goofball, a faux Top Chef…I can attach dozens of labels to myself; so can you. My life is both unique and common. Read these blogs to make your life a little easier and your mental health a little stronger based on the lessons I have learned.

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