Well, another summer break is in the record books, and thousands of children – including mine – will return to school in Nashville this week. As always, I approach this time of year with mixed emotions – sad that the summer break, with its slower pace and fewer demands, is over, but happy to get back to our more structured lives.
The beginning of a new school year comes with trepidation for all students and parents. We worry about whether our child’s teacher will be a good fit for him or her, whether our child will fit in with their classmates, and how our children will perform academically. For families with a child with a disability, there are additional layers of worry and concern. I’ve put together a list of some things that parents of students with disabilities can do early in the school year that I hope will help ease the transition and avoid some of the most common pitfalls that can come with a new school year.
1) Contact the school (probably the principal) before school starts and try to make arrangements to meet with your child’s teacher before the first day of school. Take your child with you so that they can meet the teacher as well.
2) If your child has a one-on-one assistant or other staff working with them in the classroom, make a point of meeting that person as early in the school year as possible. Let them know that you appreciate them working with your child and that they can contact you anytime with questions or concerns.
3) Review your child’s Individualized Education Program (IEP) to ensure that you are familiar with the supports and services your child should be receiving. If you are not sure, ask questions so that you have a clear understanding of what your child’s program should look like.
4) Ask your child’s teacher whether he or she has a copy of your child’s IEP. You’d be surprised how often I find that teachers have not been provided with a child’s IEP. If they don’t have a copy, offer to make a copy for them or ask the school to do so.
5) If your child requires specialized equipment, try to ascertain before school starts whether that equipment is available and in good working condition. This is especially important if your child is transitioning from one school to another.
6) Check in on your child periodically over the first few weeks of school to see how your child is doing and to get a sense for whether the supports and services in your child’s IEP are in place.
7) If your child is very young, non-verbal, or verbally limited, create some sort of communication notebook for the teachers to fill out on a daily basis so that you have a sense for how your child is doing.
8) Let your child’s teacher and other team members know that you want to be a member of your child’s team and that you value and appreciate their work with your child.
9) Request an IEP meeting early in the school year if you are concerned about whether your child is being adequately supported in school.
10) Time permitting, get involved at your child’s school (volunteering in the classroom, with the PTA, etc). The more engaged you are in the life of your child’s school, the better sense you will have for how your child is doing at school.
Even if you follow all of these recommendations, problems can still occur. But by making a habit of checking in periodically with teachers and staff and making occasional visits to your child’s school, many problems can be identified early and resolved.
Wishing everyone a wonderful school year!