To the special needs parent who may be uneasy and anxious with the transition of starting school, know you are not alone! Your feelings are valid! If you’re anything like me, I dreaded the day my baby went to preschool.
He started school by going half day in the afternoon at our local special education school. I know this may have been a happy time for most. But for me, I was an anxious hot mess.
Our son is nonverbal, very active, loves to explore, and cannot accomplish most tasks without a moderate amount of assistance. Not to mention his attention span is quite small. So how could I possibly drop off my three-year-old at school with strangers and hope for the best? I might add that for this particular school, you can start into preschool immediately at the age of three when you age out of our early intervention services. This meant that our son would only be attending school for about six weeks before summer break, which was actually quite nice. This snapshot of school gave us a quick view of what it was going to be like before committing to the full year.
Prepare with a Meet and Greet
I went in for a teacher meet and greet, which was great because we met in Liam’s classroom. He was able to get a brief tour of the school and where he would be during class. The meet and greet was brief but just enough to ease my feelings a bit. We spoke with his teacher and the speech therapist about how Liam behaves and reacts to certain situations, as well as our goals and our concerns. I couldn’t believe how relieved I was that his behaviors weren’t new to them. I mean, of course they weren’t. But to just hear their reassurance was enough to assure me that he would be just fine.
We were also lucky enough to meet his school’s physical therapist before he started. She was an angel. I’m sure she could see just how nervous I was. Luckily, to my surprise, she even met us at the drop off car line so that there would be a familiar face on his first day. Her actions were not required but spoke volumes to the type of school he was attending.
I made sure to plan activities and errands to run during his first day. This way I wouldn’t be sitting in the parking lot worrying or crying. About half way through his first day I was blessed with a phone call from Liam’s physical therapist. She was just calling to update me about how his first day was going and that he was rocking it! I’m sure you could request a midday or after school phone call just to ease your thoughts, because it sure helped ease mine!
“Get to Know Me” Flyer
This past year was Liam’s first full year of preschool. I decided to take a bit of initiative. We did everything the same including meeting with the teacher (who of course was new to Liam) and the school nurse. However, I decided that since the staff members there meet a bunch of new students every year, I would try to help by giving them a resource to refer to. I made our little Liam a “get to know me” flyer, which was given to his teacher. She was then asked to share with those that may be helping in Liam’s class.
This flyer included many details about Liam including his likes and dislikes, how he communicates, how and what he eats, and my contact information. It even included a picture of him to help give his name a face in everyone’s mind. I felt that this was my way of giving my son who is nonverbal a voice. His teacher and paraprofessionals seemed to respond well to it.
Prepare the Night Before
I made sure to lay out everything the night before to ensure that nothing was left behind and we would have a sufficient amount of time to get both kiddos ready and out the door.
Send Medical Supplies
Although Liam gets fed at home before heading to school, I made a baggy of his feeding supplies with instructions. This allowed any and everyone to be able to feed him with the instructions readily available.
Do a Practice Run
It might also be wise to do a practice run before the big day. This could include getting up on time, eating breakfast, getting dressed, getting into the car (or down to the bus stop) and to the school drop off line on time. Practicing could eliminate the element of surprise for your little one.
Honor the Day with a Photo Shoot
We did a little first day of school photo shoot. This involved printing off a first day of preschool sign that we framed and included in the photos. Although this seems to be pretty common these days, we used this as an activity to look forward to. Now, on the first and last day of every school year, we have a little photo shoot. It captures our excitement for the year to come and our celebration of a year well done.
With a little bit of effort and preparation our first day of preschool (both years!) went off without a hitch, minus a few snuffled tears from me.