So, you are getting ready to relax, kick back, maybe have an ice cold glass of lemonade. Reflecting back on all of your hard work you did this school year to help your special needs child be successful in school. You worked hard to keep your child's teacher up to date on what helped Robbie the best and to keep Robbie going all school year. You went to his IEP meetings, you made sure he did his homework, you signed his planner, you bought Robbie's teachers the latest "Bath and Body Works" scent for Christmas, you baked goodies for the class (no peanuts of course, and even gluten free!), and you even chaperoned for the field trip to the zoo, despite your allergies. Wow! I'm tired just thinking about all of it!! But just when you are about to take a sip of that ice cold lemonade, you think..... next year is a whole new school year........ the "what-ifs" start creeping in....
What if Robbie gets that mean old math teacher, Mrs. Harper, the one who yells at kids and calls them lazy? He already hates math. Just how will that motivate him? Maybe, he will even get mad and throw something. Then, I will get a call from the Principal, and he will get suspended. And then what? Will his teacher have it in for him? What if his aide quits, or his 5th grade teacher doesn't talk to the 6th grade teacher to let her/him know how Robbie learns best and what accommodations he needs? Worse, what if his 6th grade teachers just don't care, and then Robbie starts to care less, himself? What if Robbie can't remember his locker combination? What if Robbie has a nervous breakdown from all of the stress of 6th grade or more realistically, what if I have a nervous breakdown? What if the bullies start picking on him? What if he flunks 6th grade? OK, hold on. Wait a minute. A self-sufficient, involved mom like me, I can handle this. I need to take some deep breaths. I can prepare Robbie for 6th grade, and I think I will start right now!
OK here it goes. Having had a special needs child, I know how stressful each new school year is. If the prior year was bad, you are relieved that the year is over, but you dread the next year. A part of you wants to stay hopeful, but there is a part of you that just doesn't want to think about it at the end of the school year. Denial is sometimes a wonderful thing. I remember those years of worry. Each new school year, I felt helpless and unprepared. When the fall rolled around, I crossed my fingers, hoped for the best, and promised Robbie, I would sit with him in class if he disrupted class or I would drive him back to school to make sure he got his homework every day. I remember I kept asking his teachers for help and all I heard was, "Robbie should be doing this by now"and 'he should be doing that". Well he wasn't, so now what? This was back in the 90's. I'd like to think that things in special education have gotten better, but in reality, I guess you could say, it depends. It depends on the school district. It depends on the teachers. It depends on a lot of things. So without further adieu, I have put together a list of some things you can do right now to help prepare your "Robbie" for next school year. One more word about Robbie.... although he has had his share of trouble in school, he graduated and now has a full time job as a machinist. He was diagnosed with ADHD during a time when school districts didn't fully know how to help students with ADHD be successful. Instead, they were labeled lazy, lacking in motivation, oppositional, etc. His problems in school, especially became apparent in middle school when the demands on him increased. As a school social worker, I see many "Robbies" and their parents each school year. I still think we have a long way to go as educators in helping these kiddos succeed. So, here it goes. I hope you find these helpful.
Things to Do Before the School Year is Over
1. Get feedback from your child's teacher about his/her strengths, major problems, and strategies that were helpful. Ask this year's teacher if they could forward any helpful information about your child to next year's teacher. Teacher's usually do as a matter of good practice, but it always helps to ask directly for this communication. Also, prepare to share this information with the next year's teacher yourself, as well. Write up a brief letter to the next year's teacher introducing yourself and your child. Provide some basic information about your child, what their strengths and challenges are, and any effective strategies other teachers have used or what you know to be helpful. Do not get too specific with a bunch of medical diagnoses, as this may not be helpful to teachers. If your child's school does not know who the teacher will be for the next school year, ask that they forward your letter once they know.
2. Call your child's doctor and ask if they would like to receive any behavior rating checklists or reports from this year's teacher. If so, make sure to provide the teacher with a stamped envelope made out to your child's doctor's office. It is also best to contact the school nurse as well as she may have you complete a "Release of Information" form in order to be able to share any information about medication. Finally, if you plan to take your child off of any medications for a " medication holiday" make sure you ask your doctor if you can do so. This is especially important as some medications should not be stopped abruptly and likewise, can take time to be effective.
3. Contact the Special Education Coordinator or the Principal and request that your child get a tour of the new school so that your child is not anxious about starting in a new school all summer.
4. Talk with your child about what they found to be helpful and unhelpful during the school year. Then, you and your child can figure out what would be helpful for the next year. This is a great way to teach your child to begin learning to advocate for their needs. This will be especially important once they get into high school.
5. Finally, don't forget to thank this year's teacher. If you were especially appreciative of a teacher's efforts, provide the Principal or Superintendent with a copy of your letter.
That's All for Now! Stay Tuned for my next Blog in Mid- July on how to prepare for the next school year as the school year approaches.......
Gwen Ginski, M.Ed, LCSW