Preparing for the School Year: A Caregiver’s GuideAuthor: Steven M. Schwartz, PhD Date: August 08, 2019
Going back to school can be stressful for children and their parents — and when your child has a chronic health condition or other special needs, that stress can multiply. Preparing early for the return to school can help kids manage their condition and have a successful school year.
Advocating for Your Child
As you help your child prepare for the school year, remember that you are your child’s best advocate. Schools are designed to meet the general needs of all children, but you will likely have to ensure your child’s specific needs are being met. The key is to remain consistent, assertive, and fact-based.
Here are several ways you can be an effective advocate for your child:
- Consider all your child’s needs. Think about not only your child’s age, but also where they are socially and developmentally. Honestly assessing these needs will help you decide what resources your child might need to succeed in school.
- Organize your paperwork. Keep track of all the paperwork about your child’s condition and have it ready when you meet with school administrators. Take careful notes on discussions and agreements you have with administrators and teachers. Keep track of any paperwork that comes out of school meetings and note when your child has school events or doctor’s appointments.
- Attend school events. One of the best ways to advocate for your child is to participate in school activities. It will help you understand how the school system works and develop relationships with teachers and staff members who can help you advocate for your child.
- Use school resources. Many schools now have online portals where parents can see their children’s grades and learn about school events.
- Communicate with the teacher and school nurse. If possible, meet with your child’s teachers at the beginning of the school year. Help them understand your child’s condition and needs.
- Know the school’s medication policy. Be sure to have all required documentation regarding your child’s medications, instructions, and other related materials. Review these instructions with all school staff who help your child take their medication.
Consider an Individualized Educational Program (IEP)
An IEP is a legally binding document that makes special services available to your child depending on their condition, needs, and academic goals. If your child qualifies for an IEP, it will usually use strategies from these four categories to help your child learn with as little restriction as possible.
- Accommodations are changes in the ways your child meets classroom requirements — for example, taking tests in a quieter environment, or giving spoken rather than written reports. Accommodations do not reduce the amount of classwork or the way it’s graded.
- Modifications are like accommodations, but they do reduce the amount of classwork or change the way it’s graded.
- Assistive technology refers to calculators, laptops, recording devices, or other tools that help meet children’s needs so they can perform better.
- Paraprofessionals are people who work with teachers to help your child succeed in class.
Help Your Child Prepare for School
Working with your child’s school is important, but it’s just as important to help your child understand what the school year will bring. Here are some easy ways to do that:
- Talk with your child. Discuss any fears they might have about the school year.
- Visit the school. If possible, have your child tour the school building before the year starts so they can learn where everything is — their classroom, lunchroom, bathrooms, and the nurse’s office.
- Make homework a habit. Talk with your child about homework before school starts. During the school year, make time to help them with their homework and make sure it gets done. A steady homework routine with a clear workspace will help!
- Have a stress reliever handy. Caregiving can be overwhelming at times; you can expect some negative thoughts and feelings. Before school starts, find a set of activities for you and your child that help you relax and feel refreshed. Focusing on healthy stress relief not only helps you remember the positives in your life, it also models good coping skills for your child.
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