A Guide to Helping Children with Special Needs Change Schools
With a new school year right around the corner, most parents are focused on back-to-school shopping. However, as the parent of a special-needs child, you have more on your mind than merely stocking up on binders and mechanical pencils.
As you well know, children and teenagers with Autism Spectrum Disorder, learning disabilities, sensory issues, and other special needs have a more difficult time adjusting to changes than typically developing kids. So if you moved over the summer, or your child is transitioning from pre-K to elementary school or elementary to middle school, joining a new class could be especially stressful this year. Here’s a guide to help your child with special needs change schools successfully.
- Communicate: The more information you can give your child about their new school, the better. Be open about answering your child’s questions and letting them know what to expect.
- Focus on the positives: Reassure your child that while change makes people nervous, a new setting has lots of positives, such as getting to have fun and meet new people. Ask family members, friends, and therapists to share examples of times they went through a scary change and how it all turned out great in the end.
- Tour the school: Contact the school to find out if your child can walk the halls, have a guided tour, or even get to meet their teachers before school starts. If a tour isn’t possible, you can at least visit the school and walk the grounds to get your child familiar with the location.
- Arrange playdates: Ask the school about other special-needs kids in your child’s class so you can contact their parents. Find out if any are interested in getting together before school starts. This gives your child a chance to make friends with classmates so they have a few friendly faces to look for on the first day of school.
- Read school transition books with your child: Engaging titles that give young special-needs children more confidence about attending a new school include Miss Bindergarten Gets Ready for Kindergarten by Joseph Slate; Yoko and My Kindergarten by Rosemary Wells; and I am Too Absolutely Small for Kindergarten by Lauren Childs. For soon-to-be middle schoolers, try Invisible Inkling by Emily Jenkins or The Detention Club by David Yoo.
- Inform teachers, staff, and therapists about your child: Write up a concise, one- to two-page letter outlining your child’s strengths, weaknesses, sensory issues, preferred reinforcers, and dietary restrictions, if any. This gives school staff an important head’s up about your child’s special needs and opens up a channel of communication.
Feel free to modify the tips in this guide to match your child’s age, challenges, and capabilities. The compassionate team at STAR of CA can help! Our behavioral and psychological services for people with ASD in Ventura, CA can help your child more confidently tackle the upcoming school year. To learn more about our individualized programs, please contact us at 805.588.8896.
Helpful Apps for Kids with Autism Spectrum Disorder
Mobile apps available on smartphones and tablets have transformed the way kids with Autism Spectrum Disorder learn and communicate. They give parents, teachers, and therapists additional options for teaching children who develop at a different pace than their peers. Here are the apps we find most helpful for pre-K and kindergarten children with ASD.
This app teaches the alphabet by helping young learners sound out letters. Children are delighted by the sights, sounds, and ability to interact with the brightly colored letters on the screen.
Download Starfall ABCs for free from the Apple App Store or Google Play.
Starfall Learn to Read
Once children master their letters and the sounds they make, it’s time to start reading! This app helps children grasp the relationship between the spoken and written language while having fun with Zac the Rat, Peg the Hen, and other friendly characters.
Download Starfall Learn to Read for free from the Apple App Store or Google Play.
The Monster at the End of This Book
This storybook app from Sesame Street is bright, playful, and laugh-out-loud funny! It features notes for parents trying to help kids overcome their fears, along with tips to make reading the story more interactive.
Download The Monster at the End of This Book for $4.99 from the Apple App Store or $3.99 from Google Play.
One challenge of Autism Spectrum Disorder is the limited ability to recognize facial expressions and emotions. This app uses music and slideshows to depict what different feelings look like and why different situations make people feel a certain way.
Download Autism Emotion for free from the Apple App Store.
This app is a fun way for kids to practice basic math skills. Bubbles with numbers and simple equations float on illustrated backgrounds. The player pops the correct bubbles to move on to the next level!
Download Pop Math for $1.99 from the Apple App Store or $.99 from Google Play.
The Toca Boca universe grants kids access to open-ended, gender-neutral games ranging from Toca Kitchen Sushi to Toca Mystery House to Toca Life: Hospital. The interactive app offers appealing characters and role–playing opportunities.
Check out the Toca Boca library with apps available for both Apple and Android devices.
Agnitus Kids: Learn Math & ABC
Agnitus provides a range of educational games that teach fine motor skills, letters, numbers, math, memory, and recognition. The app was designed by teachers who follow the common core curriculum
Download Agnitus Kids: Learn Math & ABC for free from the Apple App Store.
At STAR of CA, we believe in taking advantage of all available resources to help your child learn and grow. In addition to trying out these educational apps, we invite you to check out our behavioral and psychological services for people with ASD in Ventura, CA. We can help you create a personalized program to meet your child and family’s needs. To learn more about us, please contact us at 805.588.8896.
Autism Spectrum Disorder Myths
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that one in 59 US children sits somewhere along the autism spectrum. Despite how relatively common this condition is, it remains quite misunderstood by the general public. One reason is because it took the better part of a century for researchers and behaviorists to even understand what Autism Spectrum Disorder is—and what it isn’t. If your child was recently diagnosed with ASD, make sure you can distinguish the myths from the truth.
Myth: Kids with ASD are not interested in having friends.
Some parents with newly diagnosed children may say, “But my son can’t be on the autism spectrum—he’s interested in other kids.” However, the defining characteristic of ASD isn’t a lack of motivation to socialize—it’s a lack of skills needed to socialize appropriately.
In fact, many children on the spectrum desperately want to make friends, but they don’t know how. They may not know how to respond to a peer showing them a new toy or how to initiate a game of tag with a peer effectively; it may look a little awkward. They may end up being socially isolated as they get older, but not by choice. With repeated unsuccessful attempts at socializing and making connections, they may stop trying. This is a critical myth to understand as the parent of a child with ASD.
Myth: Every person with ASD is a savant.
While precision, attention to detail, and impressive technological skills are common among people with Autism Spectrum Disorder, genuine “autistic savants,” like Dustin Hoffman’s character in Rain Man, are rare. According to Advanced Proficiency and Exceptional Ability in Second Languages, only about one in a million people have savant syndrome, and about 30 to 50 percent of these individuals are also diagnosed with ASD. Still, there’s no doubt that people on the autism spectrum see the world differently, which can grant unique skills, talents, and passions if honed correctly.
Myth: Vaccines cause Autism Spectrum Disorder.
This myth surfaced in 1998 when a doctor named Andrew Wakefield published a flawed study linking the measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine to autism. Celebrity moms, such as Jenny McCarthy, openly blamed vaccines for their children’s autism, further perpetuating the myth.
However, according to the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, several studies disprove the notion that the MMR vaccine is linked to ASD. Here are some examples:
- 1999 study of 498 children with ASD: There is no difference in the prevalence and age at diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Disorder in vaccinated and unvaccinated children.
- Seven-year study from 1991 to 1998 of over 535,000 children: The risk of autism is the same between vaccinated and unvaccinated children.
- Three studies ranging from 1977 to 1995: If one identical twin is diagnosed with ASD, the other is as well 92 percent of the time. The rate is only 10 percent when the twins are fraternal, demonstrating that ASD is genetic and not linked to vaccines.
- Comprehensive review of ASD and family home movies compiled in 2006: Children exhibit subtle symptoms of Autism Spectrum Disorder before reaching one year of age, and therefore, prior to receiving the MMR vaccine.
Myth: “Fad” treatments for Autism Spectrum Disorder are effective.
Various diets, vitamins, and a heavy metal-removing process called chelation have all been touted as potential treatments for ASD. However, to date, these methods have no scientific backing. The best way to treat Autism Spectrum Disorder is with behavioral intervention designed to teach children social and communication skills that help them access their needs, build meaningful relationships, and improve their quality of life.
STAR of CA in Ventura, CA offers the behavioral and psychological services you’re seeking for your child. We can develop an individualized program to facilitate your child’s unique learning style. To learn more about our evidence-based treatments, please contact us at 805.588.8896.
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