Believe it or not, now is the perfect time to think about a new school year. Your child’s school year is coming to an end and now is the best time to set up a transition meeting with your school team. Act now and meet with your school team BEFORE this school year comes to an end. Whether you’re glad that this year is over or you’re sad to leave an amazing teacher/educational experience your child just had – plan ahead and start NOW!
Ask the school to set up a transition meeting that includes a formal agenda with your child’s current and future team. Make sure all players are at the table: Principal, current teacher, next year’s teacher, therapists, educational assistants that work with your child now or plan to next school year, any other professionals on your team and most importantly, both parents/guardians. Meet without your child in May/June and meet with your future team again with your child in August before the school year begins. A classroom visit before the first day of school may increase confidence and decrease anxiety.
This time of year we (as parents) have many questions:
Who will be my child’s teacher be next year? Have my child’s IEP goals been met? How can we best prepare his/her new teacher? What do they need to know? What will we do this summer?
Who’s the teacher?
Creating class lists can be tricky and many factors come into play. It’s important to voice your concerns and preferences in a positive and constructive way. Many teachers do not have specialized training and therefore, it’s imperative that you share as much information with the new teacher about your child’s rare disorder and request a teacher who is compassionate and flexible. For example, if you have a child who experiences high anxiety, be sure to request a teacher who is calm and willing to implement strategies to help your child. You can also request a teacher who has some experience dealing with people with special needs at any capacity. My son’s best year was taught by a first year teacher who has a sister with a developmental disability. Her experience living with her sister made her the perfect match for him. Her compassion and sense of calmness eased his anxiety and that year he made the most gains, academically and socially. Teachers who “get it” are true heroes for all children with rare disorders.
Have goals been met? Why or why not?
Often parents wonder if IEP goals have been met and some schools are very good at tracking progress throughout the year and setting new goals as students reach existing goals. Having IEP meetings throughout the school year can help keep schools on track. However, in some cases, goals have not been met. As parents, you have the right to ask the school for any data or records they kept to track your child’s progress and goals. Teachers must take responsibility and track your child’s progress just like they would be for any other child in the classroom. If goals have not been met, it’s important to voice and note your concerns in your transition meeting so that the same mistake is not made the following year. Prove to the school that you mean business and that you expect sufficient data on your child’s progress. Prepare yourself and become an expert in SMART goals before your meeting: https://globalgenes.org/raredaily/leading-iep-champions-get-smart-goals-childs-iep/
What does the new teacher need to know?
Your child’s new teacher needs to know how amazing your child really is! She needs to know that this coming year will be her best year yet. She will become a better teacher and her class will learn about patience and compassion in its purest form. Your child’s new teacher also needs to know about your child’s needs and strengths so they can use their strengths to help your child reach his/her maximum potential. The best way to accomplish this is through a personalized student profile or home-made video about your child. (Examples of specific student profiles can be found in my Education & Advocacy Facebook group: https://www.facebook.com/#!/groups/459882400757033/. Once your child’s teacher is hooked and in love with your child, you can provide them a brief handout or video that is specific to your child’s rare disorder. Keep the video less than 30 minutes and any handouts should be from a reputable organization. (Dante’s school team appreciated and learned a lot from Elizabeth Roof’s video: https://youtu.be/Y5LhSePDvqk . Most teachers like to prepare over the summer, so make it easy for them. Don’t forget to thank them and reassure them that together this will be their best year yet!
What will we do this summer?
Summer can be stressful for students with special needs because it lacks structure and routine but it can also be a great opportunity to spend time with families, enjoy summer camps and just have fun being a kid. Schools can help to minimize stress by working with families to create social stories that include a countdown to the last day of school that include pictures of possible summer activities. Enjoy this website that includes free social stories and instructions on how to create your own: https://www.oneplaceforspecialneeds.com/main/library_social_stories.html
I have personally had success enrolling my son, Dante, into our local summer camp. Many camps offer one-on-one support workers for children with special needs. The key is to find something that your child is good at or something that they love to do. Amusement parks will be on our family agenda this summer. What will your summer calendar look like? Fill it up together as a family – everyone loves to look forward to something fun!
Tanya Johnson (Mother of a 10-year-old boy with PWS, Special Education Teacher and co-founder of FPWR Canada)
p.s. Join our Education and Advocacy facebook group (https://www.facebook.com/#!/groups/459882400757033/) and let’s keep the conversation going and Happy Summer!