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Life After Lockdown: Back to School Checklist for Children with Special Needs

Are your child's developmental disabilities causing you to worry about your upcoming meeting with the new teacher? Here are some tips to help you remember everything that your child needs to go back to school.

When my daughter Elizabeth was young, I felt anxious and lost sleep over the transition back to the new school year, even as much as she looked forward to it. Elizabeth is blind and in a wheelchair. She didn’t speak and used a lot of medical equipment to eat, breathe, and well, just live. But, like most other parents, the end of summer signaled the time to hit the reset button on our child’s educational plan. This year, however, is much different.

In our current situation, our team is somewhat fractured, and more than ever, I am the hub and the gatekeeper of information. As tired as I am, and with all the hats I am wearing, it’s my job to lead this integration back to school successfully.

Being patient, thoughtful, and encouraging is a challenge – but is so critically important!

As a parent and a professional who advises families every day about these issues, I want to give some tips to help you start off the year with your best foot forward.

Here are a few questions you’ll want to ask yourself when creating a back-to-school checklist for your special needs child.

Tips to Start Your Year Right

  1. Review your child’s Individualized Education Plan (IEP). Has he or she made sufficient progress on their goals? What did you learn while observing him during the distance learning process? Did she do well with one-to-one learning, or does she need more? You are in a unique position to report back on your findings. What needs to be changed or updated for the new environment?
  2. Organize and address any new information you received during the downtime. Was your child ill or has anything changed about their condition? Have there been any changes to your family situation? Did you receive a new diagnosis? If so, do you have new reports or evaluations to share and did you videotape any of those ZOOM sessions? 
  3. This is a big one. You need to decide if you feel comfortable sending your child back to school at this time. You’re entitled to know and understand what the classroom and school protocols will be to keep him or her safe. You should also think about any healthcare difficulties your child may face. Does your child have an Individualized Healthcare Plan (an IHP) that will need to be updated for the new protocols? If not, should she have an IHP now? An Individualized Healthcare Plan is required by law when a child has a medical condition that impacts his or her ability to access education during the school year/day such as a child who needs to take insulin or other medication while they are at school, a child with life threatening allergies, or a child with a g-tube and seizures like my daughter, Elizabeth.
  4. If you decide to send your child back to school, it’s imperative to figure out if their needs can be accommodated. Does your child require one-to-one staffing such as a nurse or an aide? If this is a new request for the IEP then a TEAM meeting will need to be called to discuss the request. The new protocols around social distancing in the schools will impact the timing of your child’s ability to return to school. Even if you’ve always had this one-to-one staffing for your child, new protocols will need to be in place prior to the return to school.
  5. Another consideration before returning your child to school includes mobility issues. Will the elevators be available now, and are the classrooms spaced well for him or her? Is there medicine or special food that needs to be refrigerated, and will he or she be allowed to use the refrigerator now? What are the new emergency procedures for your child in case of fire or other emergency crisis? These are all questions that need to be answered before sending your child back to a classroom.
  6. Finally, you should consider calling a team meeting to discuss these issues in a more formal manner. Even though everyone is very busy and inundated – do not be intimidated! Advocate for your child!

Here’s the Bottom Line . . .

If you aren’t comfortable with how things are set up for your child in school, you have options. The IDEA entitles your child to a free and appropriate education. That includes homeschooling and distance learning. But, it also includes protections and accommodations under the Americans with Disabilities Act, and numerous other state laws as well.

Build Your Team

Remember to be thoughtful about the long-term value of developing relationships with physicians, providers, schools, caseworkers, and others. Nurture these relationships. 

Of course, you and your child have legal rights, but remember, people moderate these rights. It’s always better if plans are a team decision rather than a reluctant response to a demand.  Give the team the benefit of the doubt, and believe that everyone is working hard and trying their best.  The saying, “you catch more flies with honey than with vinegar” requires patience and a thoughtful approach by the person who is in the role of advocate. 

Some see this approach as “giving up,” and feel that if they are not “fighting” for the best outcome then they will be defeated.  In fact, the advocate who is an active and valuable part of their or their child’s special education team is the true leader and more likely to be successful in getting the best possible outcomes.  Being patient, thoughtful, and encouraging in those relationships with the people and educational providers (who are often the source of frustration and bad news) is a challenge, but is so critically important!

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The author’s views are entirely his or her own and may not necessarily reflect the views of Blub Blub Inc. All content provided on this website is for informational purposes only and is not intended to be a substitute for independent professional medical judgement, advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website.

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