Don’t forget this on your back-to-school checklist for your child with a developmental disability!
Parents everywhere face back-to-school preparations: finding the right backpack, locating the missing lunch box, maybe buying a new pair of shoes or a first day of school shirt. We take stock of what clothes still fit and what supplies we need to replenish, and we support the teachers as best we can with needed classroom tools like pencils or even tissue boxes.
Parents of students with developmental disabilities are preparing in other ways, too. We’ve learned from experience how to keep the transition as positive as possible. We are busy making social stories, creating transition charts, and most importantly, building new relationships. And we ease our natural anxiety by reminding ourselves (and each other) that with each year come new experiences with new opportunities.
We’ve got this.
There are many things you can do as you and your child prepare to enter a new classroom this year. Writing a letter to your child’s new teacher is one of them.
Here’s a letter I wrote for my child’s new teacher.*
I hope you had a relaxing summer. I hope your emotional batteries are recharged. I know how much you give during the school year and how exhausting that is. I also appreciate that your life is more than the classroom and that some days you need to dig very deep to enter the room with a smile or to repeat the instructions multiple times without screaming in frustration. Thank you.
Let Me Tell You About Me
You will likely hear from me often. I am updating my IEP binder [see Tips on Making the Most of Your IEP binder here]. I am scheduling a visit to preview the classroom with my son. I have the checklists and I’m doing my best to prepare our home, our family and my son for a new school year [many printable routine charts here!]. I am a bit anxious about the change in routine and start of a new year in a new classroom. I’m also optimistic and hopeful that with new experiences come new opportunities for growth and learning!
Meet My Son – Your Student
By now you’ve likely seen the diagnoses and read the IEP. But I want to tell you more. I want to tell you that his hair is super short because he gave himself a haircut and we couldn’t salvage the locks. I want to tell you why he did it and how we are proud of how he dealt with it. I want to tell you that there is nothing sweeter than the first good morning interactions with this loving child. It’s helpful to know what he’s eaten that day and how it could be affecting his behavior. I see changes based on how the morning went, or his sleep, or how his brothers’ moods are impacting him. I think it’s all important and I’ll want to tell you everything. I also know that I can’t tell you everything. I will follow your lead. So…
- What is the best way to keep an open line of communication?
- Do you prefer email or a communication folder?
- Should we schedule regular meetings to check in on the phone or in person?
You and I are entering a partnership around a very important person and we both want to be set up for success. Let’s figure out a plan together!
The Beautiful Boy Behind the Diagnosis
You have a lot of new students to meet. I can’t expect to flood you with details and ask you to know my son as I do. You’ll have your own impressions and perspective and that is valuable. You will gather information from reports, testing and IEP goals and this will give you invaluable insight into my son’s needs. For a fuller picture of my awesome child, however, I would like to present you with the following document from my child, about my child.
Thank you for all you give. It’s going to be a great year.
Source: In 2012, Dr. Peter Rosenbaum and Dr. Jan Gorter published a paper entitled “F-words in Childhood Disability.”
Tools for parents have been created and are available here. My version is a slight modification and my advice is to keep it one page and keep it simple. Attach it to the front of your IEP, bring it with your child to meet the teacher or better yet, if possible, ask your child to carry it along. How empowering!
* This letter was initially shared in August of 2017 by Julie McIsaac for Exceptional Lives.