Let’s face it: humans thrive on routine, and change can be difficult. Take a moment to think about your own daily routine. If something minor happens, your routine is completely thrown off. Imagine the huge changes that occur twice in a few short months for school-aged children: summer vacation begins and then ends. 

Now imagine that same change for children with special needs! We spend time preparing them for daily transitions, and now the structure that they so rely on and has been part of their routine for ten months comes to a screeching halt. Then, at the end of the summer, there’s the change that comes just as they were getting used to having less structure and fewer demands placed on them.

Transitioning away from and back to school can be hard! But there are ways to decrease the anxiety, the meltdowns and the heartbreak we may experience during these transitions.

The key is to make your plan for the entire school year now. Here are things to keep in mind during each time of the year.

Just before school starts

  • Remind your child about the upcoming school year. Work together to write a story about the transition back to school. Address any concerns your child has about starting school, and work into the story how those concerns can be dealt with. Reassure your child that everything will be all right.
  • Take your child to school before classes resume. If he is going to a new school or is just a little hesitant about returning, identify several dates that you can take your child into school to see the classroom, his locker, the cafeteria and the bathrooms. Take her to the playground and allow her to play for awhile. Have her meet her new teacher. Exposure to the environment may help calm any fears.

Before the end of the school year

  • A month or so before school is out, work with your child’s teacher to help prepare him for the change. 
  • Make a visual schedule so your child can see what happens during the days of summer vacation. Many children with special needs rely on visuals to help them understand, so use the calendar to help them see when the changes are coming.

During the summer months

  • Enroll your child in Extended School year (ESY). ESY will help him continue to practice routines and academic skills in the school setting, making for a shorter summer vacation and a shorter time away from routine. When children attend ESY, they are typically provided with support to ensure their success, just as during the regular school year.
  • Enroll your child in camp. Children who are on the Children’s Long Term Support (CLTS) Waiver are able to receive funding for various summer camps that keep them engaged with a variety of activities. Summer camp provides opportunities to engage with peers and develop friendships and practice independence skills.
  • Create a routine at home. Creating and maintaining a routine year-round helps children know what to expect. ESY, camps and summer school typically don’t last all summer. So have a schedule that your child follows when not in school. Include down time activities as well as learning activities.

Once you and your child know that there’s a plan for the entire school year, you’ll both feel better about the transitions between school and vacation.

Kendra Carter is the Children’s Long Term Support (CLTS) Waiver Program manager at St. Francis Children’s Center. 

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