Back to School: establish an effective team for your special needs child

As we prepare for back to school in August.  We need to start thinking about how we want this school year to go in comparison to the previous or the multiple years prior.  Each year, whether in public or private school, students have a new teacher and often an entire new team of teachers.   The biggest  lesson I learned in early intervention is never believe what other people tell you about how it is going to work or what the process is going to be.  Instead, go directly to the teacher and the team and ask them yourself.

If your child has special needs and is in a public school, you want to ask for an IEP meeting immediately.  You will also want to ask for a conference during pre-school to go over opening day expectations from the school and how to best help your child transition that first day, week and month.   Also, ask for an introduction to the team members. If your child will have OT, speech and.or behavior specialist then you need to meet and greet each of those people.   Sometimes, I have to take notes for myself about the people.  If all the team members are female; I write down their names and I write myself a description of the person.  Then, when I talk with my child with limited language we can talk about the OT on a level that we both understand.

If you are in a private school, you want to find out what changes will occur with the start of a new school year.  Will your child be in a new classroom but with the same teacher.  As for a meeting with the office manager or principal to review the previous year and ask questions about the upcoming year.


Tips for building an effective team for your special needs child:


  • communication

start off the school year with communication, get into the school and start talking about your child and his needs.  Be positive and purposeful with your words, you are laying a foundation of how you will talk to the team at school and how you want the team to speak to you.  Let the team know the best way to reach you, we understand it’s on the clinic card, because you want to know if there is a concern or a need coming up for the class.  Communicate your understanding of the long school year and the successes and challenges that may come and your appreciation for them to work and communicate with you.

  • expectations

write down your expectations of your child for the school year.  do NOT write down what you expect the teacher to do.  Instead focus on what you want your child to learn and the goals you want her to achieve.  Remember that people have different ways of doing things and just because it’s not the same way you do it, doesn’t mean it won’t work.  The only expectations I would give the teacher is related to communication.  you want to know if there is a problem immediately.  Set a system in place, for how you expect the teacher to communicate her needs or your child’s needs.  Personally, I also always told teachers that they should expect me to ask for meetings even when there are no problems and that they should expect those meetings to be long with additional outside support people in attendance.

  • experiences/background

you must talk or consider your experiences and your child’s experiences in school and share that with the new team.  Often how we react to problems or concerns is related to our prior experiences; whether good or bad.   Tell some background of your child so that the team understands some of what your family has been through and what expectations you do have for your child and the school year.  For example, my son has been non-verbal up until October.  He hasn’t been verbal for an entire year yet!

  • successes

you have to talk about your child’s successes in relation to academics as well as in other outside activities.   If your child is still young, talk about what they know and what strengths he or she has.  I used to tell teachers when my son was three that he was very successful at running, jumping, climbing, really anything that was gross motor skill related.  Also, if you have found a resources in the community that your child loves you want to share that.  So, if you found that he loves the shopping area at the local children’s museum and will pretend to do the grocery shopping, you want to share that.  Also, if your child is participating in an activity, share that.  My son loves to swim and is working to practice and participate in the special Olympic program when he turns eight.

  • boundaries

We have mostly discussed communication to set up your team for the school year.  We also have to set boundaries.  Boundaries need to exist in the relationship so that the team know what and how much you are willing to do and what they can and can not ask for.  You know you are or have had that mom tell you that she gets called at least three times a week about her child’s behavior.  Or even worse, the parent that goes up to the school whenever the child does have a problem.  We have to set a clear boundary as to what circumstances dictate a call that requires you to come to the school for your child.  We also have to set clear boundaries as to how often or frequently you are contacted regarded negative situations.  No one wants to hear over and over that all their kids does is negative things. Set a boundary that for daily it has to be one to one ratio of good new to bad news.  If you have had a past experience of having to go to the school weekly, set that in your expectations, that you will only go to the school for meetings or medical emergencies and that the school and the team need an effective way to manage problem behaviors.


Best of luck setting and establishing your successful team this school year!

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