Getting ready for a new school year with a child with learning disabilities, autism or other special needs involves a lot more than just a trip to buy a new binder. In fact, for children with an autistic spectrum disorder, even getting used to a new backpack can be overwhelming. No matter what kind of special issue challenges your child, here are some tips to make the transition a bit easier for them – and for you.
1. Set aside some time to read with your child at least a few times a week. Research shows that children can lose some reading skills over the summer, and for those with a reading disability, that regression can be serious, says Ann Marie Agnello, a developmental psychologist and advocate for Advocacy for Compliant Education in Ridgewood. “Children with learning disabilities tend to read less than their peers, and this affects their vocabulary skills, no matter how rich their interpersonal relations with their families. You can take turns reading a paragraph, or a few sentences, depending on your child’s reading level,” Agnello says. “Get them used to reading out loud.” Check comprehension by asking some questions.
2. For younger children, get some workbooks at a teacher store and set up a “pretend school” area in your home. Have children do several workbook activities a few times a week before school starts.
3. For children of all ages, online educational games and apps are entertaining and can help them learn math facts or improve reading skills and vocabulary, according to the Learning Disabilities Association of America (ldanatl.org).
4. Do fun activities that are also educational. Multisensory strategies are often effective for children with learning disabilities, according to the International Dyslexia Association (interdys.org). For instance, for children who are not yet reading, let them practice writing alphabet letters with finger paints or shaving cream. Adding food coloring to the shaving cream can make it even more fun.
5. Play some math games, or look for everyday math examples. When making pancakes, cut them in half or in quarters to practice division. When setting the table, ask them to count up the number of people who will be sitting down, and then get the same number of spoons or forks, Agnello says. Draw a giant number line on the driveway or sidewalk with chalk, and have your child run or jump through the boxes to play out simple arithmetic, such as 3+4=7.
6. To ease the transition into a new classroom – especially if there is a new teacher and new classmates - call the school and arrange an early-bird visit right before school starts. If you can, take pictures of the classroom, the gym, even the hallways to serve as visual reminders in the first few days. An early visit can be a good strategy even for middle and high school students, who can locate their classrooms and locker when no other students are around.
7. Parents should build and maintain a strong, positive relationship with their child’s teachers, suggests the National Center for Learning Disabilities. Exchange email addresses with teachers, and share some information about your child, such as the learning techniques that seem to be especially helpful.
8. Get children back into a school time routine, by going to bed earlier and getting up earlier for a couple of weeks before school starts.
9. If you know who will be in your child’s class, arrange a play date with one or two classmates so they’ll see a familiar face on the first day.
10. Buy and organize school supplies. Color-code notebooks and folders by subject. Set up a homework spot in the house, and let your child arrange it, by putting out pencils and other necessary materials.
With reporting by Yvonne Chilik Wollenberg