In our county, school is back in session in less than a week. I can’t believe my son is ready to start 2nd grade. I can still remember his first day of school, almost 6 years ago. He was a tiny little boy. He didn’t know how to chew properly yet, and his vocabulary had only one word: Mama.
This magic word worked for everything. As his “Mama” I never felt challenged to understand him. I knew exactly what “mama” meant in every different circumstance; food, milk, wet diaper, play, or nap time. Nevertheless, my problem started the day I learned he would start school for his 3rd birthday. I couldn’t imagine him climbing into a school bus and heading up to school by himself. I couldn’t picture him far from me, far from his “mama” for a whole day, when actually, it was me who didn’t have a clue as to what to do without him.
Kids with special needs can start school same day they turn 3 years old. The paradoxical part of this experience is that when some parents of typical kids are dreaming for their brood to start school soon, many of us (parents of kids with special needs) have a really hard time to letting them go so early.
These are 6 common fears parents of children with special needs may face when it’s time to start school. I’ve also included how to face these issues to ease the transition and foster more success for both parent and child.
1) He doesn’t know to talk yet. Nobody is going to understand him. 1 of 6
Most kids with special needs who start school at the age of 3 are not fully verbal yet. Many of them will never be. The most important thing to do, if this is the case your child, is to bring the necessary tools to make communication easier between him and the teacher. Your child's teacher should be a trained professional, ready to start an individual plan for your child, but providing her with information about signs he may use or pictures that will facilitate his way of communicating, is always a great idea.
2) My child has behavior problems. She throws tantrums constantly and I’m the only one who can calm her down. 2 of 6
Many times, we (parents) feel irreplaceable and like nobody else can understand or take care of our kids. If you know how to help your child to control the fear or anxiety affecting her behavior, talk with the teacher about it. Together you may find a positive way to make him feel secure and understand this new environment. She doesn't need to face all those challenges alone just because you are not with her. Instead, she needs to learn to trust others in order to grow and gain independence.
3) He’s not potty trained yet, or he doesn’t know how to feed himself. 3 of 6
Special education classroom have these concerns covered. These special needs may be part of your child's Individualized Education Plan (IEP) already. It's expected that your child may need extra help and these needs will be addressed in order to help your child succeed in close collaboration between home and school.
4) I’m scared about his inability to communicate or express situations as bullying or abuse at school. 4 of 6
This is a very delicate and understandable concern. We don't want our kids to be bullied or abused, and many times we feel helpless at the time of letting them go to school knowing that they can't communicate about the things they like or may dislike while they're there.
Pictures are very useful to address this issue. Talk to the teacher about your concerns. Request a written calendar of activities so you know what he's supposed to be doing each day, and how to ask him simple questions about his day that he may respond to with a simple yes or no. For example, did you eat pizza today? Was it good? Pay special attention to his behavior and, if it comes up, never force your child to attend school without understanding why he doesn't want to go.
5) I don’t feel the school bus will be safe enough for him. He’s too young for that. 5 of 6
Special education school buses are an adapted service for kids with disabilities. Your child will be seated in a car seat, booster or using a seat belt, depending on his weight, height, and special needs. The special education school bus is also supposed to give your child extra time if he encounters challenges when climbing up and into the bus.
6) He takes several medications during the day. 6 of 6
That can also be addressed between you, the teacher, and the school nurse. If you still feel insecure, ask the nurse to mark a calendar to confirm he received his dose of medication every day. That's a good visual reminder for her, and a good way for you to feel relieved of yet another stress.
Above all, talk to your child’s teacher, create a positive relationship with her and request her most convenient times to call to e-mail to check-in on your child. Perhaps express interest in pursuing different opportunities to volunteer and become an active and involved parent. These strategies will help you and your child be more successful in school and alleviate those common fears we parents of kids with special needs seem to face when they start school.