Tips for the Transition to School for Kids with Disabilities

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Heading back to school can be both an exciting and stressful time for kids and families. Check out these tips from providers and parents for the transition to preschool, elementary school and high school for kids with disabilities and developmental needs. We hope this information support you on this journey and make it a little less stressful for you and your child this year!

Tips for Transition to Preschool

This could be the first time you’ll be leaving your child in someone else’s care. It is important to prepare yourself for your feelings and reactions to this new chapter in parenthood. Children look to their parents and caregivers to see how they should feel about a person or situation. Here are a few tips to help them, and you, to become more comfortable with this change:
  • Talk to your child about the details at their early learning centre (e.g., “they have a great playground”, “they have fun toys”, “they have very nice teachers”, “you get to sit at big kid tables”, etc.).
  • Be enthusiastic: Use simple, positive language and make sure your facial expressions match your enthusiasm.
  • Take your child to visit the school, even if it’s only to play outside. Take photos to review at home and share with other family members.
  • About 10-15% of all school-aged children experience separation anxiety, so you aren’t alone if this is happening in your house. Try reading books to your child that talks about being away from parents and caregivers. “The Kissing Hand” by Audrey Penn is a great read about a racoon who is going off to school (great for preschool or elementary).
  • Try to schedule a meeting with your child’s future teachers and support staff and your child’s therapy team to discuss the best ways to work as a team to support your child and their needs.
  • Develop a good relationship with all members of your child’s team by being open, honest and flexible.

Tips for Transition to Elementary School

The transition to school process usually starts a year in advance of when your child is set to begin school. You’ve likely already had many conversations with your child’s therapist and school teams about the transition and you are set up for success! Here are a few items you can add to your plan to help with the transition before school starts and throughout the year.
  • Take your child to school and discuss the building, playground, classrooms, office, etc.
  • Read books and sing songs about going to school and the bus (if applicable). Practice taking the route to school
  • Involve your child in picking their backpacks or lunch box
  • Start adjusting sleep schedules for a few days before the start of school
  • Consider creating an F Words profile for your child to help school staff get to know them better and support their strengths and needs. You can find a variety of F Word templates here. Please note these documents do not replace any formal school documentation
  • Get to know the names and roles of the new staff who will be working with your child. You can start to develop those important relationships before school even starts!
  • If at any point you are confused by terminology or acronyms used by school staff, just ask them to explain! It is ok not to know everything.

Tips for Transition to Secondary School

Transitioning to high school is often an exciting, yet nerve-racking time for youth and their families. It is a time when parents need to navigate their child’s increased need for independence and autonomy as the child develops their own sense of self.
  • Help your child stay connected with friends from elementary school who will attend the same secondary school as your child
  • Practice the route to school and visit the school. Familiarity can help ease anxiety
  • Look for natural opportunities to increase your child’s independence over the coming weeks (e.g., making their own plans, making meals, helping to shop for supplies, taking public transit, etc.)
  • Check out these great tips from high school students with disabilities: here.

Tips for Transition to Post-secondary

Has your youth with a disability or developmental need been accepted into a college or university this fall? Congratulations! Here are a few ways you can help set up your child for success:
  • Check out the school’s list of disability resources and/or accommodations. There may be accessibility programs and mentors that your student can access for disabled students going to post-secondary school.
  • Contact the school’s accessibility services department. These departments can help coordinate accommodations, including extra time needed for assignments, tests or exams, physical accommodations, etc.
  • Encourage your child to introduce him or herself to their professors or teachers early in the semester to start building relationships. This can help encourage discussion when added support may be needed
  • Look for additional scholarships and bursaries to help with expenses. Even if deadlines for this year are over, be sure to keep them on your radar and apply for future years, if applicable. Information located here.
  • Read Lexi’s tips for disabled students and the need for a strong support system and a strong social life at college or university, here.
  • Read Amina’s story about her challenges and successes and the importance of self-advocacy skills at college and university, here.

For more tips and ideas to help set up your child for a successful transition to school, including special education resources, visit our Online Resource Centre here.