‘Sensory Child Gets Organized:’ Great Book Helps Special Needs Kids Go Back to School

I know most of the country has started school. But here on the East Coast, the time is the now (or even next week!). If you’re a parent of a child with special needs, a great new book just came out for you. Author Carolyn Dalgliesh wrote The Sensory Child Gets Organized: Proven Systems for Rigid, Anxious or Distracted Kids. She hopes her tips can make school–and life–a little easier and a lot more fun. Check out my Q&A with her below, including her top 5 tips for going back to school. Dalgliesh knows what she’s talking about–she’s got a sensory child of her own.

KK: How do you define a sensory child?
CD: In my book, The Sensory Child Gets Organized, I use the term “sensory” to define children who are rigid, anxious, or distracted as a result of autism, ADHD, anxiety, bipolar disorder or sensory processing disorder. Though there are a number of profiles and diagnoses for a “sensory” child, the core challenges are similar for many; attention problems, inflexibility, anxiety, social and emotional difficulties – all that make for overwhelmed kids (and parents!) as they navigate daily life. I believe in focusing on the challenging behavior or task and coming up with ways to support it.

KK: Why do parents of sensory child need this book?
CD: Sensory kids navigate the world through a different lens and parents need help creating physical environments and sensory organizing strategies that speak to their child. Early on, as I was learning how to support my own sensory child, I felt like there was a major gap between the essential clinical support we received and the practical solutions that we really needed to make life at home easier for our child and our whole family. My book gives parents the sensory organizing tools of structure, routines, and visual aids that can be used anywhere, anytime and for almost any situation. My main goal is to help parents, caregivers and teachers bring out the best in these innately talented kids by providing practical solutions for every day living.

KK: What are your top 5 tips for getting sensory kids prepared and organized for Back-to-School?
CD: For a sensory child, back-to-school isnʼt about a week or two but rather continuous supports over a couple of months. For the sensory child, I like to think of back-to-school as a three-month process that starts with supporting a new classroom with new routines, then moves to getting stuff home and back to school, and finally homework strategies. Initially, we want to focus on what might be the immediate challenges as our kids get back to school and start with these first:

1. Prioritize
When it comes to back-to-school, our first priority will be supporting their experiences around new people, a new classroom and new routines they will encounter when school starts.

2. Paint a Picture
Utilize a concrete, visual tool when you can. Go to any open house or visit days before the start of school. Bring your camera and take pictures of your childʼs classroom, teachers, recess area, cafeteria, gym, the bus stop – anything that will help you create a visual map of their day. For younger kids, make a picture book to have them review. Youʼll be surprised the positive impact that visual reviews of the school environment will have in easing your childʼs transition.

3. Learn the New Schedule
Try to get an advance copy of the daily schedule for the school day and have your child review it a few times before school starts so they have a general sense of their daily experience. For ongoing maintenance, create a schedule area in your home that has a daily / weekly school schedule for your child to review periodically. You can note simple things like – Monday is music day, Thursday
is library day – simple ways to help them understand what their weeks will look like at school. Itʼs also good to include after school activities or to note nights where parents will be out or get home late. For kids that might need some extra support, create a more detailed laminated morning schedule that they can review before or on the way to school to help learn the new routine.

4. Do Something Fun
Create a fun tradition that you do with your sensory child the day before school starts. It can be lunch out at a favorite restaurant, a movie date, or a visit to ice cream parlor – something that puts a fun spin on the last day of summer.

5. Introduce Visual Aids to Support the Hard Stuff
After the first few weeks, be mindful of moving to the next stage of the back to school transition. There are sure to be some difficult moments and its important to pay attention to the particular areas that seem to be challenging for your sensory child (transition from school back to home, getting started on homework, getting to bed, getting out of the house in the morning). Pick the top two challenges and develop a visual aid and/or clear routine that brings structure and comfort to the difficult tasks.

KK: How does being organized help these – and all – children?
Sensory kids are navigating situations each and every day that are overwhelming for them. Being organized externally helps sensory kids get organized internally which, in turn, helps them respond more appropriately to situations that are new, overwhelming, or challenging. Organization is a tool that helps all kids. Early attention to developing efficient skills around planning, organizing and problem solving is an important life skill and an important tool for academic success – a support for every child.

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