It sounds too good to be true. After years of slow but steady progress, hours of speech, occupational, physical and psychotherapies, at last you’ve been told that your child with special needs is ready to be mainstreamed. While the news is encouraging and both you and your child are thrilled, this transition can feel a bit overwhelming. After all, you’re in unchartered territory.
What can you do to ease the transition? We’ve combed through a variety of sources to come up with a list of strategies you can utilize to prepare your child, his new teacher and his future classmates for this momentous step forward.
Consult with the special educators at the school your child previously attended.
With the exception of her parents, no one knows your child’s capabilities, strengths, weaknesses and learning style better than her former teacher. Have an exit interview with teachers and therapists at the school and document all of their educational, social and behavioral recommendations.
Share those recommendations with the teacher at your child’s new school.
Preparation is key to giving your child the best chance for success in her new mainstream classroom. Provide the new teacher a leg up by sharing the advice of special educators who know your child well. Does your child learn best when seated in front of the classroom? Does she need to take breaks when frustrated? Will she benefit from visual cues? Knowing these particulars will help your child’s teacher help your child.
Familiarize your student with the new teacher, building and classroom
Everyone feels more comfortable entering a new situation when they know what to expect. For children with special needs, it may be even more important that they be comfortable with their new teacher as well as the new school campus and classroom. So meet with your child’s teacher several times before he begins attending the school, and tour his new classroom and school building as many times as possible, before his official start date.
Set up playdates with students in the new class
Ask your child’s teacher, the school principal or admission director to reach out to a few families from the class to help you coordinate some playdates. That way, your child will already know several students when she joins her new class.
Address your child’s disability with fellow students
Some parents find that talking with their child’s classmates about his disability may help create a more welcoming environment in the classroom. According to the Pacer Center, a Minnesota nonprofit funded by the U.S. Department of education, “… if classmates understand a child’s disability, they may become allies in helping the child. The children may also be less likely to view accommodations or individual support as unfair advantages.”
Talking with your child’s class presents “an opportunity to discuss why a child may look or behave differently from other children in the class, to point out the many ways in which the child is like classmates and to offer classmates tips for interacting with the child.” Being proactive in this way, can prevent the kind of bullying and ostracizing that may occur when your child’s classmates don’t understand his disability.
Stay involved with your child’s teacher and be active in the school community.
The importance of being an active participant in the life of your child’s class and school cannot be underestimated. In fact, says the National Education Association, “Ongoing research shows that family engagement in schools improves student achievement, reduces absenteeism, and restores parents’ confidence in their children’s education. Students with involved parents or other caregivers earn higher grades and test scores, have better social skills, and show improved behavior.”
For children with special needs, parental involvement may be even more critical. Involved parents can serve as advocates, role models and may help their children to feel part of the school community.
So, if your schedule permits, become involved in the PTA, chair committees and help out in your child’s classroom. It will be well worth your time.