By Dan Coulter
Most of us can remember some wonderful and terrible things about school. In many ways, the first day of class can set the tone for a whole school year. If you have a child with special needs, you can help lay the groundwork for a successful year’s launch with some basic preparations.
Start by anticipating things from your child’s point of view. What is he going to encounter and how is he likely to react?
Get in touch with school personnel and do some research.
• What will be your child’s schedule?
• Who will his teachers be?
• What subjects will she take?
• What activities will he be involved in?
• How long will she spend at each activity?
• How will he need to physically move about the building during the day?
I’m a video producer. I can tell you from experience that one key to a successful day’s shooting is scouting a location in advance.
You can use this same technique to help ensure a successful school year launch.
Contact your school staff before classes start and arrange a “preview” visit for you and your child. Get a staff member to explain what’s going to happen on that first day step by step. Do a location walk-through with your guide, checking out hallways, classrooms, restrooms, cafeteria, gym, playground, sports fields –- the works. Meet as many of the teachers and other school staff who your child will encounter that first day as possible. Discuss the school's rules. Find out what students should and shouldn’t do. If he'll ride a school bus, get the details about pick-ups, drop-offs, and the riding rules.
As you’re touring, make some mental notes. Is your child interested or excited about anything in particular? Is there anything that he or she is likely to encounter that could trigger a sensitivity or problem behavior?
The more familiar your child becomes with the school, the staff, and what to expect, the better his chances of having a great first day. Knowing what will happen can also raise her confidence level and help her relate to other kids, as she’ll be something of an expert on her surroundings.
After your visit, write out a one-page profile of your child for teachers and other staff. This should be a short outline or bullet points, and not a treatise. Note your child’s strengths and challenges. Describe any difficult behaviors the school staff is likely to encounter and any effective ways you’ve found to deal with them. For example, you might note that your child sometimes becomes frustrated and angry in stressful situations, and that allowing him to go to a quiet corner of the room for a few minutes will usually enable him to calm down and rejoin class activities.
You’re not using the document to tell teachers how to do their job. You’re providing information to help them recognize what’s happening from your child’s point of view and use their best judgment to deal with the situation effectively. It’s best if you can use this profile as a guide for a pre-school year conference with your child’s teacher or teachers. As that conference, you can hand out the profile, go into more detail about your child, and answer questions. Having the profile gives the teachers a resource they can refer to later, and helps fix what you’ve said in their memories. If your child has numerous teachers, you can meet with each individually if a group meeting isn't feasible. Being flexible gives you the best chance of sharing information that will help your child.
If possible, identify a staff member, such as a counselor, who your child can seek out if he or she gets stressed or has a problem. Your child should meet this person before school starts and know how to find or contact him or her during the school day.
The more teachers and other staff understand your child, the better they’ll be able to respond appropriately to any quirks he or she may exhibit. I found a great example of this when I recently interviewed Karra Barber about her book, “Living Your Best Life With Asperger’s Syndrome.”
Kids with Asperger Syndrome tend to take things literally. Karra’s son, Thomas, did just this when he got a call from a counselor at a camp he was about to attend. The counselors called the campers to introduce themselves and tell the kids what to expect at camp. Karra called her son to the phone, “Thomas...Tom, it’s your counselor from camp!” When Thomas picked up the phone, the counselor (having heard his mom call him both Thomas and Tom) asked him what he’d like to be called.
“Ben,” he said.
When Thomas and the counselor were finished talking, Karra confirmed with the counselor that her son’s name was Thomas and they had a quick laugh.
After the call, Karra asked Thomas why he’d told the counselor to call him, “Ben.”
He responded that the counselor had asked him what he’d like to be called and he told her “Ben” because he’d always liked that name.
It made complete sense from his point of view.
Giving teachers some insights into your child can help avoid misunderstandings and encourage them to use students’ different perspectives to enrich their teaching. Giving your child a preview of his school can help prepare him for success.
You can think of a school year as a mountain road with a lot of twists and turns. A bit of preparation can serve as a guardrail to help your child and his teachers keep his car on the road, make good progress and enjoy the ride.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Dan Coulter is the writer/producer of the INTRICATE MINDS videos that help students in elementary through high school understand and accept classmates with Asperger Syndrome and other differences. You can read more articles on his website at: coultervideo.com.
Copyright 2006 Dan Coulter (Revised 2014) All Rights Reserved. Used by Permission.