It’s the first week in August, and it is hard to believe we already need to be thinking about prepping to go back to school. The beginning of the school year can be a mix of emotions for both you and your child. There is likely some apprehension and excitement. Your child may be excited about the new backpack you just got him but a little nervous about meeting a new teacher and not having all of his friends in his class. At the same time you are looking forward to some more structure to your weeks but nervous about how your daughter will adjust to her new routine. If you are a parent of a child who receives speech therapy or special education services during the school year these times of transition may be a bit more challenging. Here are some great tips to get your year off to a smooth start.
1. Children often feel apprehension when they know something new is coming but don’t know to expect. These next few weeks are an excellent opportunity to help your child prepare for what is to come. One way to do this is writing a social story about the new school schedule. A social story accurately describes a context, skills, achievement, or concept according to a defined criteria developed initially by Carol Gray. When writing a social story, it is helpful to include pictures that your child can relate to and that reflect his school. The story should be specific to your child so use his/her name. Use photos of their school building and the interior classrooms plus a bus that looks like the one that will show up at your house on the first day. You can include information about what will happen during their typical school day like going to the cafeteria, sitting in circle time, and riding the bus home. Read the story daily in the weeks leading up to the first day of school. Your library or local bookstore will also have a host of stories about the first day of school. I would suggest finding books that talk about school in a positive way. Some of my favorites are:
2. Get our your child’s IEP and review the goals. Checking over the goals is an opportunity for you to ensure they are still appropriate. Your IEP meeting may have been written many months before the start of the school year. Children can make developmental jumps during that time and may have surpassed their goals or sometimes children have regression over the summer and will need to re-learn skills they lost. If you believe changes are needed, then contact your child’s SLP to schedule an IEP review. If your child got some extra services over the summer, then ask the SLP or tutor to write up a summary of their summer therapy. The teacher or SLP will be grateful for the extra information.
Once the year is underway, find out if your child is progressing toward his/her IEP goals. Ask on a regular basis. If your child has been working on the same target but is still struggling after three months, it may be time to try a new approach or take a break from the goal. Asking this question also helps you monitor progress and keep track yourself. If you are also working on these skills at home, you can let the SLP know about your successes/challenges.
3. Contact your child’s new teacher, the front office of the school, last year’s SLP, or even the school district office to find out who your child’s speech-language pathologist will be for the current school year. It is a good idea to make contact early and also keep in touch with the SLP throughout the school year. Ask the speech therapist what the best way for you to communicate with them will be. Early contact lets the speech therapist know you are interested in remaining involved and up-to-date with your child’s work. You can offer the SLP your email address or phone number, send a notebook for communication to go back-and-forth between home and school, or you may receive a folder with regular updates and notes on progress and homework assignments. Be proactive but also aware that everyone has their system of communicating between home and school.
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4. Collaboration is a fantastic tool to increase long-term success. You and your child, along with her therapists are working hard year round to make gains, so it is critical that you ask the therapists to collaborate. Your school and private therapists will require that you sign a release of information so they can speak with each other and share documentation. Collaboration between parents, your child’s school based team and outside therapists will help your child to make progress faster and will allow all people on your daughter’s team to brain storm and problem solve together to help your child succeed. Also be sure to explicitly ask your child’s school SLP, “How can I help my child at home?” The speech therapist can share the techniques that appear to be useful for your child. Working with him at home will accelerate his progress.
Speech therapy is most effective when parents and SLPs work together. Get started now and have a great school year!