It’s that time of year when the kids are full of excitement, parents are working on getting the routine back up and running, and teachers are busy decorating their rooms and planning lessons! I can still remember the song on a TV add for back to school days and the mixed feeling of dread and excitement it brought to me.
To our children with sensory integration dysfunction, the beginning of school can mean much more than anticipation and excitement. It may signal the “fight or flight” response. This means that something about school may cause the feeling of great anxiety. It may be the smell of the room, noise of the school bell, a situation that happened last year, or the feeling of establishing a new comfort zone. Our children may experience greater physical symptoms of anxiety and more “stimming” or self-regulatory behaviors surrounding school. My older son has a marked increase in his verbal high-pitched noises throughout the day since my announcement of beginning our back to school bedtime routine on August first.
The most important thing we can do as parents of children with special needs is to help ease the transition of back to school. Here’s the list that I’ve made as a result of years of personal experience coupled with the observation of the parents whose children have come to me for therapy:
1) Try to schedule a visit to the school when all is quiet. This is a super idea even for a typical child with anxiety about school. While at your visit, allow your child to take pictures of the classroom, desks, the teacher, and any area where transition is required such as the gym or cafeteria. If at all possible, find out who the teacher is and schedule ten minute meeting to take his/her picture with your child.
**The second step is to make a colorful binder with the pictures taken at school. Involving your child is an essential step in this activity. In the binder the classroom rules could be included.
Our School-Eaze CD contains many school sounds such as school bell, cafeteria noise, gym class, swim meet, and hallway noise/change classes. The sounds are set to rhythms. Allowing your child to control the volume of the sounds is important to help him/her to feel more in control. Visit www.route2greatness.com for more information.
2) Begin the bed-time routine at least two weeks before school starts. This should include making sure the backpack is by the door, clothes are set out, and any bed time prayers/devotions are said. If at all possible, sleep routine should be set so that getting up early on the first day of school is not so difficult.
3) Pack the packpack with the familiar items and let your child play with them, making sure to replace them afterwards. Label folders as appropriate and practice repeating phrases that your teacher would use. “Students, please get out your pencil, markers, and the history folder please.” This is also an excellent way to practice following single and multi-step commands.
4) Write the classroom routine down and review it daily. This is an especially important step with older children who may be changing classrooms or utilizing lockers. Our routine is spelled out with a schedule from getting up to getting out of the door, and then following a seperate school schedule. If an entire schedule is completed, then a star is given at the top of that schedule by the supervising adult. You may break tasks down as appropriate for your child, but reviewing the classroom schedule each day at least two weeks before school begins is important.
More ideas for homeschooling, transitions, activity charts to come!