How to successfully transition back to school for children with additional needs
For children with additional needs, anxiety about returning to school after the summer break can be overwhelming. Dealing with changes in setting (the school building instead of home) and community (teachers and peers instead of family) are often the most difficult struggles to overcome, and can be particularly challenging for children with conditions such as autism, ADD/ADHD, or other learning or developmental challenges.
What you will learn:
- Some of the challenges for children starting school
- Products to help prepare your child for the academic year
The challenges are even more acute for children starting a new school. The unique setting and community will bring new sounds, sights, smells, and feels. For children with sensory processing issues, busy areas such as the school hall, cafeteria and playground can produce sounds that grate. Fluorescent lights are harsh on vision and most settings are highly stimulating with bright colours and lots to look at. New books, markers, and personal care products waft odours outside our norm. Uniform pants and sweaters can be itchy with too many tags. The temperature in each classroom might vary drastically. All of this can lead to sensory processing overload.
Fortunately, there are ways to help our children manage these difficulties. Social stories depicting routines, settings, and people can help the students prepare for what they might encounter so they are not surprised. Preparation for academics through play over the summer can also alleviate anxiety about the school work is too hard.
Consider Numberblocks, a toy that turns maths into a fun game, to build confidence with early maths concepts and numbers.
Geomag magnetic panels can boost spatial awareness as well as interpersonal skills such as problem-solving, communication, and collaboration, which will ready the child for participating with peers in the classroom.
Talking with the staff at the child’s school to discuss your child’s strengths as well as struggles is very important. Tell the team what strategies and tools have worked in the past. If there are new difficulties, ask the team to help you identify new strategies and compensations so that consistency in approach can be applied from school to home and back.
Self-regulation can be difficult with children with additional needs once they have reached the point of feeling anxious or overwhelmed in school. Fidget toys are great self-regulatory tools, however, the majority of them are overly distracting or even dangerous for a school setting (monkey noodles that can be swung around could hit someone, stress balls could pop leaving a choking hazard from the material inside, a fidget spinner could fly out of hand and hit someone). Many are just too loud (pop-it buttons, pop tubes, etc).
The Hoglet is an excellent alternative to traditional fidgets. It is a functional computer mouse covered in silicone nubs providing gentle tactile feedback while the child works at the computer. Children that used this product were observed to be more engaged with their work making it an excellent option for school and home.
Fidgets that do make noise such as the Sensory FX ASMR Pod can be kept in the car or by the door so that the child can use it as soon as they get home from school to help with transitional regulation.
Though the back-to-school time can be difficult for children with additional needs, there is hope! The most important thing you can do for them, alongside implementing some of these tips, is to let them know they are loved and valued, which sometimes can be accomplished with a simple before and after school hug.