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 peopleAsk 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 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 reinforcersand 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. 

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