Starting school is always an emotional time for both parent and child; from first-time separation anxieties to the worries related to meeting new people, there’s a lot to think about. This is especially true if your child has been diagnosed as having Special Educational Needs (SEN). Simple things such as eating in an unfamiliar place, or having a whole new set of rules to adhere to, can prove stressful and distressing for your child. If your child is due to start school and you’re not sure how they’ll cope with the extra challenges, then read on. We’ve got four great tips to make the transition as smooth as possible.
Many children with special educational needs, particularly those with Autism, thrive on a firm routine; they like to know what to expect and feel safe when they know exactly what they’re doing and when. While school hours are down to the teachers, you can help by making mornings a positive experience. Create a visual timetable with activities such as eating a healthy breakfast, packing their bag, getting dressed and walking to school, and get them to tick everything off as they go.
School can be hard at the best of times, but never more so for children who have sensory and extra needs, so it’s crucial that they’re given time when they get home to wind down and de-stress properly. Rather than enforcing a ‘homework-first’ policy, allow them an hour to do an activity of their choosing; whether it’s playing on the computer, reading a book or playing with a pet. This will help to prepare them for the evening ahead, and reduce the chance of meltdowns.
Starting school is a huge transition, especially for children with special educational needs, and so challenging behavior is to be expected. Biting and chewing on inappropriate things, physical aggression and avoidance are all common and can be symptomatic of an underlying problem that needs addressing. The school will have a dedicated counselor, but you could also consider seeing an external professional who has a masters in school counseling. They’ll help you to get to the bottom of what’s causing the behavior, and will be able to advise you on strategies for going forward.
Children with additional needs can be provided with educational materials that will help with various problems, from sensory over-stimulation to the need for routine. Children who are particularly sensitive to noise can make use of specially designed ear defenders, which can be pulled out when the classroom is just too chaotic for them. Similarly, children who are prone to becoming over-excited or distressed by noise often bite themselves or inappropriate objects such as pencils or clothing. You can buy sensory chew accessories, such as wristbands or pendants, which are safe to bite on and encourage your child to avoid chewing anything else. If your child can’t cope without a routine, make sure they have a visual timetable to follow throughout the day - this will make sure they always know where they should be currently, and where they’re going next.