Back to School: What Parents of Kids With Special Needs Love...and Dread

This is what I'm really looking forward to about back to school...and what I'm not!

My son's in an extended school year program, so he's in school for a good chunk of summer, with several weeks off starting in late June and then again in August. Filling up his time during those weeks can be both fun and challenging—a sentiment other parents I know who have kids with special needs heartily agree with. This is what I'm really looking forward to about back to school...and what I'm dreading:

Back-to-school like: routine

As with many kids with special needs, my son thrives on structure—one reason he adores school. He knows that the bus will pick him up, he'll take off his backpack and put it in his cubby, he'll learn, he'll get therapy, he'll eat his usual lunch (mac 'n cheese, please), he'll learn some more, he'll get back on the bus and come home. Routine gives him comfort and peace of mind. Me, too.

Back-to-school yikes: having to be supermom again

After weeks of not dealing with the morning and bedtime crunch or making lunches, it will be back to the usual stay-on-top-of-everything grind.

Back-to-school like: Finally pulling our kids away from the TV

As ardently as we may vow to not let our children watch too much TV, somehow, they watch too much TV.

Back-to-school like: more helping hands

Lately, we've been working on Max's oral-motor feeding challenges; chewing crunchy or hard foods can be a choking hazard. He sees a speech therapist at home once a week who helps, but at school I get collective wisdom—from the speech therapist and from the occupational therapist who can weigh in on spoon positioning, along with observations from his teacher.

Back-to-school yikes: having to push for yet more help

Mostly, we've been pleased with the services we get from Max's school. But we've come to an impasse about speech goals. The school speech therapist mostly wants to work on augmentative communication (Max uses a speech app on his iPad), given that's what makes education easiest. A recent speech evaulation told us nothing we didn't already know: talking does not come easy for him. And yet, Max so wants to articulate words, as hard as it is. He's always talking, even if people don't always understand him. Come the start of the school year, I'll be back to pushing—once again—for more goals regarding articulation.

Back-to-school like: I get a break from the obsessions

Max tends to develop fixations; most recently, he's really into fire trucks. Which means that he repeatedly talks about fire trucks (as in, every 10 minutes), asks about visiting the local fire station, plays with fire trucks, and watches YouTube videos of fire trucks. There is only so much talk about fire trucks a parent can take. School: my sanity salvation.

Back-to-school like: homework

Seeing Max's progress with reading and math, and coaxing it along, is a thrill. I can still hear the voices of those doom-and-gloom doctors in the NICU who told my husband and me the worst about Max's future, including the serious cognitive impairment he'd face. And now, this boy reads books to me at bedtime. Bring on the worksheets!

Back-to-school yikes: homework!

The biggest challenge for me, as a working parent, is carving out time for Max's homework. Four days a week, I don't get home from my commute till around 7:00 p.m. It can get a little stressful making sure Max gets all the attention he needs before he gets too weary and unfocused to carry on.

Back-to-school like: Team Max returns

Yes, it takes a village to raise any child, especially one with special needs. It benefits Max—and gives me a whole lot of comfort as his parent—knowing that together the experienced pros at his school are watching out for him, finding new ways for him to achieve, and working with me to help my son achieve his potential. Go, Team Max!

Ellen Seidman is a mom of two, editor, and professional snacker who blogs daily at Love That Max. You can find her pondering special needs parenthood and other important topics (such as what her next snack will be) on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Google+ even though she still hasn't totally figured out what that is.

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