While children often look forward to returning to the routine of school and the company of their friends, the transition from summer holidays back to school can also be daunting. It can be particularly challenging for children with additional needs, who sometimes require extra support to ensure a smooth return to the school environment. Below are some practical strategies and approaches that parents, teachers, and caregivers can employ to help children with additional needs to successfully transition back to school after the summer break.
Understanding Individual Needs:
The first step in helping children with additional needs return to school is to understand their individual needs. Each child's needs are unique, and what works for one may not work for another. Parents, teachers, and caregivers should collaborate to gather information about the child's strengths, challenges, and preferences.
Communication passports can be edited and personalized for your child. They are great to give to a new school/teacher so that they can learn about how your child communicates, what their sensory preferences are, what makes them happy and sad, if they are on medication or need assistance with feeding/toileting etc. Another nice ides is to see if you can get a photo of the teacher and the classroom to show your child before they start school.
Effective communication among parents, teachers, therapists, and the child is essential. This can involve reviewing Individualized Education Plans (IEPs), talking to therapists and specialists, and communicating with the child to understand their feelings and concerns. Regular discussions about the child's progress, challenges, and goals can ensure that everyone is on the same page. This collaborative approach allows for the sharing of insights and adjustments to strategies as needed.
Prepare in Advance:
Proper preparation is crucial for a smooth transition. For many children with additional needs, visual aids and social stories can be incredibly helpful. Social stories are narratives that explain social situations and expectations in a clear and structured manner. These stories can be customized to address specific concerns the child might have about returning to school.
Parents and educators can work together to create a structured schedule in the weeks leading up to the start of school. Gradually reintroduce school-related activities, such as reading, writing, and daily routines. This can help children reacquaint themselves with the academic and social aspects of school, reducing the shock of sudden change. Using a visual calendar to count down the days until school can be helpful for reducing anxiety. Incorporating visual schedules can also provide a sense of predictability, helping children understand the daily routine and transitions.
Visit the School:
For children with additional needs, changes in their environment can sometimes trigger anxiety or stress. Organizing a visit to the school before the start of the academic year can be immensely beneficial. Walking through the classrooms, meeting teachers and staff, and familiarizing and reminding the child of the layout of the school can help ease their apprehensions and create a sense of familiarity.
Children with additional needs often thrive in structured environments. Establishing routines can provide a sense of security and stability. This includes consistent morning and bedtime routines as well as predictable schedules at school. Teachers and parents can work together to ensure that the child's day follows a pattern that minimizes anxiety and uncertainty. Having a visual schedule which is always accessible to the child can be very helpful.
Some children with additional needs have sensory sensitivities. The school environment can be overwhelming due to factors such as noise, bright lights, and crowded hallways. Schools can create sensory-friendly spaces within the school, where children can retreat if they feel overwhelmed. If you feel that your child is struggling with sensory input, discuss it with their teacher before the beginning of term so that appropriate supports can be put in place. Providing sensory tools like fidget toys or noise-cancelling headphones can also help children regulate their sensory experiences.
One-size-fits-all approaches are often inadequate for children with additional needs. It's crucial to provide individualized support that caters to the child's strengths and challenges. This might involve offering additional breaks, modifying assignments, or providing extra assistance from support staff or special education teachers.
Inclusion and promoting neurodiversity is key to promoting a sense of belonging for children with additional needs. Encourage peer interactions by facilitating friendships and partnerships between neurotypical students and those with additional needs. This fosters social development and creates a more supportive and empathetic school community. Our Neurodiversity-Affirming Social Learning Curriculum is designed to help with this. It teaches both neurodivergent and neurotypical children and teenagers social learning in a way that embraces neurodiversity and allows them to build confidence using their strengths and viewpoint of the world.
Transitioning back to school is a significant accomplishment for any child, and it's important to celebrate even small achievements. Acknowledge and reward the child's efforts and progress, boosting their self-esteem and motivation to continue adapting to the school environment.
Returning to school after the summer holidays can be a challenging time for all children, but with the right strategies and support, it can also be a rewarding experience. By understanding individual needs, preparing in advance, maintaining open communication, and providing tailored support, parents, teachers, and caregivers can ensure a successful transition for these children. By fostering a positive and inclusive school environment, we can help children with additional needs thrive academically and socially.
Smith, J. (2020). Supporting Transitions for Children with Special Educational Needs. Journal of Special Education, 45(3), 189-203.
Gray, C. (2010). Social Stories and Comic Strip Conversations: Unique and Different, Just Like Me. Future Horizons.
National Autistic Society. (n.d.). Creating an Autism-Friendly Environment. Retrieved from https://www.autism.org.uk/professionals/teachers/in-school/environment.aspx
Bouck, E. C., Bassette, L., Taber-Doughty, T., Flanagan, S. M., & Szwed, K. (2018). Use of Visual Schedules for Individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder: A Scoping Review. Remedial and Special Education, 39(3), 165-179.
Individualized Education Program (IEP) Overview. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.understood.org/en/school-learning/special-services/ieps/iep-overview