8 Back To School Tips That Will Help Your Special Needs Child

This is a post in the weekly Autism Hopes series by Lisa Quinones-Fontanez, a mom who blogs over at AutismWonderland.

Four years ago I put Norrin on the school bus for the first time. He was still in diapers and he had no language. The autism diagnosis was still so new. I had no idea what to do or what to expect. I was scared but had no choice but to send him to school and put him on the bus.

Next Wednesday he’ll be back on the school bus, off to still a fairly new school. And just because I’ve been putting him on a bus and sending him to school since he was a practically a baby, it doesn’t get any easier. But I’ve learned some things since that first September. Things that have made a difference to make Norrin’s transition easier, to help his teacher understand him better and to put my mind at ease.

Here are a few tips that make the back to school transition a whole lot smoother. And I got some blog pals to share what they’ve learned too.

  • The Introduction Letter. I’ve been doing this for the last few years. I write an introduction letter to the main teacher and one for each therapist. My letter includes: diagnosisprogress made over the last yearusual dispositionstrengthsweaknessesactivities he enjoysactivities that are frustratingitems he’ll work forour concernsany self stimulating behaviors (what he does/when he does it/how we redirect him), goals that mean the most to us and contact information. But there’s no one set laundry list of what to include in your letter. (One year, I listed all the words Norrin knew how to say.) Tweak your letter and add information that is critical for your child.
  • Get contact information for bus driver and matron. Your relationship with the bus driver and matron is just as important as your relationship with your child’s teacher. Be sure to exchange contact information immediately. Ask for their names and remember them. Let them know if your child likes to sit by the window or gets car sick – anything that will make the ride to school easier for everyone. This year I plan on trying something new. I’m going to greet the bus driver and matron with gift card for a local coffee shop. It doesn’t need to be much, just enough for a coffee and sweet treat. I want them to know how much I appreciate them.
  • Know who is in your child’s class. On the second or third day of school, I ask the teacher for the names of the other students. It’s rare that Norrin tells me who he’s played with or sat next to and most times he just blurts out random names. When I know the names of his classmates, I use that in our conversation to try and figure out Norrin’s day.
  • Provide book suggestions. If you have a young child in a “typical” public school or in an inclusion class, provide some material to educate the other students. Two books I really like are This is Gabriel Making Sense of School and My Friend with Autism. Both books are written in a clear and simple language for children to understand the diagnosis and let them know what to expect from your child.

More tips from a few blog pals:

  • Jean Stimey Winegardner of Stimeyland: Make sure your child’s IEP is being followed. Your child’s IEP is a legal document and his school has to follow it. At your first meeting with your child’s teacher, tell her that you will stop by or email at the end of the week to see if she has any questions specific to the IEP after she has read it. Being clear about your expectations from the beginning makes any relationship easier. For more of Jean’s tips click HERE.
  • Flannery Sullivan of The Connor Chronicles uses the reward system and keeps weekly track of good behavior with this really cool chart.
  • Hartley Steiner of Hartley’s Life with Three Boys put together this amazing Sensory Accommodations Checklist for teachers. Download a PDF copy of Hartley’s Sensory Accommodations Checklist.
  • Tim Tucker of Both Hands and a FlashlightDon’t push your child toward new skills or goals until they get settled into school. For example, if you’re working on getting your child to look people in the eyes more, don’t push that when school starts. Your goal the first week of school is just to get back into the routine and see where things are. For more Tim’s strategies click HERE.


Every year is different and I still start every school year not knowing what to expect. But I take comfort in knowing what to do to set my child up for a successful school year.


Care to share your back to school tips?

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  1. by Pamela P.

    On August 31, 2012 at 3:41 pm

    Great tips! I especially like the idea of doing an introduction letter. I will share this with my stepson and his wife who have an autistic son. Thank you!

  2. by Jessica

    On September 1, 2012 at 12:41 pm

    Great tips Lisa (and others) I like the intro letter idea. We’ve been doing it for years and it is so much easier than having to retell your story plus leaves something on paper that the teachers can refer to.

  3. by Alexis W

    On September 1, 2012 at 1:13 pm

    Great edvice I have bad experienceses with bus drivers they come late or mistreat my son.

  4. by Kiley

    On September 1, 2012 at 9:07 pm

    Great tips! As an early childhood teacher and a parent ( no specially learning needs though) I think the intro letter is great, I do an intro letter to the parents of the children in my class so that the parents know what to expect… When a parent does an into letter to me it helps me get a sense of what their child’s needs are:)

  5. by Ericka

    On September 2, 2012 at 7:44 pm

    Thank you so much for the tips. I am going to need to do this next year. I love the idea of the intro letter.

  6. [...] 8 Back to School Tips That Will Help Your Special Needs Child Sharing some tips (and 2 books that explain autism to kids) that have helped me. And I got some autism parents to share what works for them, including a super cool chart.  [...]