By Tanya Glover
There are many challenges a parent of a special needs child faces. The one I have most recently had to deal with is my son’s transition to a new school. For a special needs child, change can be very difficult. Many of these children rely on routine and consistency, so when a major change comes, it can be very scary for them and the parents as well. Helping them (and yourself) becomes top priority when change occurs.
Though your special needs child may be in a self contained classroom, they still have to change grades and therefore teachers and schools. This can be a stressful experience for the child and for you as well. My son has just entered middle school (grades 6-8). The school he had been at previously (grades 3-5) was a place that he had grown accustom to, as did I. He had the same teacher and teacher’s assistant for the past 2 years. The school was fairly small and he knew where to go for everything he needed and also knew all of the staff. He was comfortable with this school and the staff, as was I. Knowing he had to change to a new school this year was something at the front of my mind for quite some time. When you have a special needs child you worry about all sorts of things. Will his teachers give him what he needs? Will the other kids be kind to him? Will he be able to navigate the new school without getting scared and lost? There are so many things to consider and I will share what I have done and what you can do to, to help yourself and your special needs child.
Tips to Quell Your Fears
The first thing anyone of a special needs child should do before sending them to a new school is to visit the school yourself with your child. This is the first step in ensuring the needs of your child will be met. When you meet with your child’s teacher, ask questions! Have a list of questions with you so you do not forget something you may feel important. In order to feel better about your child’s new situation, have the new teacher explain to you how their daily routine works. Even special needs children in a self contained classroom participate in elective classes. This means that they will likely spend at least some time with the regular classes. Make sure you know what their schedule is so if you need to check up on them you know exactly where they are and when.
Not only do you need to ask questions, you must also assert yourself by telling the staff that will be working with your child about his or her needs. For example, my son can only read, write, and spell his first and last name. This is something I want them to be aware of so they do not just give him work to do and expect that he will complete it by himself. Also, if you child has any problem with self care issues, make this known. Tell the teacher if you child needs help with buttons or zippers for instance. If your child takes medication be sure to let their teacher and the other staff involved in his or her care know about this. Make sure the dosage and frequency are made known and when the child takes the medication. If your child must take medication at school, make sure you are aware of the schools policy on medication at school. Usually there are rules about this and there must be a doctor’s note of file for the medication to be used at school. In addition to that, your child will most likely not be allowed to carry the medication with them but must leave it at the office instead. When it is time to take the medication, your child will be sent to the office to get it from the staff.
Get Informed About Classroom Policy
Some teachers welcome parents to pop in whenever they would like to. In my opinion, this is the most ideal situation. If this is allowed and/or encouraged, do so as often as you can! A teacher that wants the parent involved and in the classroom is a teacher who finds it important for the parents to participate in the education process. It also says to me that the teacher has nothing to hide and do not mind the parents seeing how they handle their classroom. Many times schools are underfunded and the teachers actually welcome help from the parents. This is a fantastic way to be involved in your child’s education and be able to keep an eye on them as well!
Issues for the Custodial Parent
Some children are from a divorced family and some are even in danger from the absent parent .This is the case with my son who was shaken by his biological father. This happened so long ago and the judgment was that I was to have full custody and the biological father would never be allowed to be near him again. Every school he has been in took my word as to the custody issue and it was listed that his biological father would never be allowed access to him. Now that he is in a different school things have changed. Due to the size of the new school they are very strict on custody policies and require that each parent have a copy of custody on file at the school. If this is a concern for you be sure to check out your child’s school policy on this. If there is a rule about absent parents having access to their children if no custody papers are on file, you need to be aware of this and take the proper steps. With no custody papers, the only thing the school can do to stop the absent parent from acquiring the child is place a courtesy call to you and try to stall for the time it takes for you to arrive and intervene. This is VERY IMPORTANT. The law states that if the parents name on the birth certificate matches the identification the parent is carrying, the school legally has no choice but to release the child UNLESS there are custody papers on file at the school. While you may think that the absent parent would never try to take your child from their school, it is always best to plan for the worst and hope for the best.
Though it can be a scary experience for your entire family, switching your special needs child to a new school is just one of many new changes your child will have to face in their lives. Be strong for them so they can feel confident about being able to handle the change. If you have to walk your child to class for a few weeks until he or she can make their own way, do it, as it can also help to ease your own anxiety. Keep in regular contact with your child’s teacher because sharing information is good for all involved and can help the child both at school and at home. Above, all fight for your child. If you feel that they are not getting what they need at their new school, speak up! You are their voice and must be loud and unwavering.
Christie Hunter is registered clinical counselor in British Columbia and co-founder of Theravive. She is a certified management accountant. She has a masters of arts in counseling psychology from Liberty University with specialty in marriage and family and a post-graduate specialty in trauma resolution. In 2007 she started Theravive with her husband in order to help make mental health care easily attainable and nonthreatening. She has a passion for gifted children and their education. You can reach Christie at 360-350-8627 or write her at christie - at - theravive.com.