Five Things to Do Before School Starts if You Have a Child with Special Needs

With summer ending, parents of children with special needs have a new and daunting task: transitioning back to school. What additional steps should you take to ensure your child with a disability is ready for school?


Review your child’s IEP

Sit down and take notes from your child’s IEP. If your IEP states your child will have the text outlined, who will do this? Good communication is key with any relationship, and this is especially true of your child’s educational team. 

If your IEP calls for your child to have a paraprofessional, how will this person be involved in your child’s education? The IEP should have language to act as a guideline for what this person should and should not do. Try to make sure the para knows what is expected prior to the first day of school, as the IEP starts on the first day of school

Have a plan to implement the IEP successfully. Do not expect it to just happen. Even a great IEP team can become overwhelmed and forget something that was placed in the plan last year. Review the modifications and accommodations that have been established for your child. Keep track of what is working for your child, and what is not. Each IEP calls for a yearly review, and most reviews take place in the fall, so start to prepare now. The IEP notice will come in the mail before you know the time has passed.  

Call the school; plan ahead

How will you communicate with the teacher? If you prefer email, then send a friendly hello and “introduce” your child. Share any tools from therapists that work well at home to keep your child focused or stop a meltdown. Make sure all the staff knows key phrases to avoid. 

Know all the staff members working with your child. Who will be his para? Will it be the same para all day or will they rotate? Where will the para meet her on the first day? Where should you drop-off and where should you pick-up? The last thing any parent needs is additional stress on the first day of school. Knowing the answers to these questions will make the first day go much more smoothly. 

Take your child to see the new classroom and meet the new teacher

Make sure to take your child to see the classroom and meet the staff. Any child, but especially one with special needs, thrives on schedule and predictability. If your child is older and has a locker, buy a combination lock ahead of time and have her practice at home. If the child has a schedule with multiple classes, walk the child through the day a few times. Practice stopping at his locker and the restroom. 

Keep in mind that the teacher is not always informed what is in the IEP plan and what the teacher needs to do. Additionally, the teacher has a whole class of children, who all have their own “special needs.” Make sure that your child’s teacher is aware of what is expected of him or her through the IEP. What will be the regular education teacher's duties for your child? What aspects will be handled by the paraprofessional?

Talk often to the child, and make a visual schedule 

Talk with your child and let him or her know what to expect this upcoming school year.Transitions often are a difficult area for children with special needs, especially when moving to a new school. A visual schedule can help your student know what is expected. One good visual is a simple calendar with each day’s activities and appointments. Research has shown that many students are able to attend to visual information more successfully than to oral information.You can use the schedule for getting ready in the morning, and have a second copy at school to be used throughout the school day. 

Be realistic 

As a parent, of course you always want what is best for your child. But also take into consideration what the law says, and do not expect too much from your child’s school. The statute provides a Free, Appropriate Public Education (FAPE). According to the National Center for Learning Disabilities, through FAPE your child’s school must assess your child and ensure that he or she receives an education. It only has to be reasonable, not the best possible education.

Although it is challenging, planning ahead for the school year for your child with special needs is doing what is best for your child. Planning will make the year less stressful overall.


1(Garretson, Fein & Waterhouse, 1990).

Because of the generality of the information on this site, it may not apply to a given place, time, or set of facts. It is not intended to be legal advice, and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations