It helps if parents are able to begin the school year by laying a solid educational support system for their children. This is especially true if it will be the child’s first year in a particular school system.
Contacting the school system the year prior to their child’s enrollment gives parents the opportunity to talk to the special education coordinator and meet the principal and other teachers their child will likely encounter. Communicating needs and identifying existing supports was important for my son after we decided to transition him into a mainstreamed general education school. I was pleased with how the school was willing to work with our son’s needs during this transition.
Based on our experience, I would recommend the following tips for parents enrolling their autistic children in a new school and meeting with a new team of professionals:
- Bring a valid IEP or confirm testing dates to create one.
- Ask to see the classroom, cafeteria, library, computer lab, gym, or any other area your child will be in during the day. Make sure the furniture or seating arrangements seem suitable for your child.
- Come with a list of concerns to discuss with the education team and ask how the school can address them.
- Ask if they have appropriate break rooms for children who need sensory breaks.
- Ask for a daily schedule and determine where issues might arise for your child so you can address them with the education team.
- Create a reference sheet about your child for the special education teacher. He or she can then make copies for everyone in the school who will work with your child. Include things your child likes and dislikes, as well as behavior management systems you use at home or have found especially effective in previous educational settings.
- Take your child to the school as often as possible before the start of the year to meet teachers and get familiarized with the environment.
- Ask the school for permission to take pictures of each room and education professional your child will be working with. You can then create a social story about school in a book, video, or slideshow format to review with your child before the start of school.
- Ask the special education coordinator to connect you with parents of other autistic children. If there are no other autistic children, there may be other parents of special needs children or children with IEPs who may have a helpful perspective about ensuring educational rights in your school system and helping your child enjoy school.
Parents need to know that the people working with their children care about them. The more they can talk with professionals who can assure them of their experience or the willingness to adapt, accommodate, and support their children, the more comfortable they will be.