A new school year can bring excitement, promise and a few challenges. But for parents of first-timers or young children with special needs such as autism, the start of something completely new can be stressful. One local school principal sheds light on ways to ease back-to-school jitters and enjoy this time of year.
Elizabeth Fuzy, M.Ed., BCaBA
Principal of The Bancroft School Early Education Program
Back-to-school messages are everywhere from our email inboxes to the endcaps at Target, and for many families, this is an exciting time of year. Students of all ages are preparing to head back to the classroom and hit the books with friends and peers, and surely, many parents will welcome a predictable schedule back into the weekday chaos. But for parents of first-timers or children with special needs such as autism, this time of year can be rife with fear and worry.
As principal of the Early Education Program at Bancroft – a school for young children with special needs – I have seen firsthand the power of a few tried-and-true strategies that can make the transition into the classroom easier. And of course, these tips can help any student struggling to adjust to a new setting:
Take a Tour
Prior to the new school year, request a facility tour, meet the support staff– and bring your child, too! Knowing what to expect – right down to the color of a classroom’s walls – can make a world of difference in easing new school year nerves.
If possible, take photographs of the building, classrooms and outdoor spaces and begin to review them with your child before the Big First Day.
Encourage Social Connections
Making social connections and meeting friends and peers can be a frightening prospect for little ones – and especially for young children with special needs. Creating an “All About Me” sheet together can be a fun and creative way to remind your child why he or she is so great!
This quick reference will also help your child’s teachers swiftly identify his or her likes, dislikes, methods of communication and possible behaviors – not to mention help classroom staff encourage students with similar interests to interact and play.
Establish Lines of Communication
Before the first day of school, meet with your child’s new teacher and establish a communication schedule that works for both parties. I’ve had parents who prefer an email over a phone call, and students know we can always reach Mom or Dad.
For an uncertain new student, knowing his parent and teacher are on the same team can become a huge comfort. Parents can rest easier knowing they’re always aligned, too.
Create a Transportation Plan
If your new student will ride a school bus for the first time, it’s important to familiarize him or her with the idea beforehand. Identify school busses when you see them, and begin talking about, reading about and finding pictures of school buses and the fun and excitement they can bring.
If you’re planning to drive your child to school, plan ahead and speak with your child about the various transitions at the car, the main office and classroom, so he or she is well prepared for the process.
With a little extra care and planning, families can turn a potentially stressful transition into a fun and exciting time. Keep these ideas in mind over the several weeks as your family adjusts to the school setting and schedule. Maintain open communication with your child and his or her teacher and care team and don’t be afraid to ask a ton of questions as your student hits his or her stride this year.
At The Bancroft School, students ages 3 through 21 have access to a robust suite of services and an interdisciplinary educational and therapeutic team including faculty, physical, occupational, speech and sensory therapists.
For more information about autism and other intellectual or developmental disabilities and to inquire about enrollment at The Bancroft School and other programs, dial 1-800-774-5516.