I’ve learnt lots of things about the transition process for children with special needs.
- Start researching and visiting schools at least 1-2 years in advance of your child starting Prep. Enrol early and ensure that the school has met you, your child and that they are fully aware of your child’s needs. Full disclosure is part of the school enrolment process and is necessary in order for the school to appropriately prepare to resource for your child.
- Ensure that you enrol at more than one school. A few of my friends have had their child enrolled at one school and then when the school has begun looking at the make-up of the Prep groupings for the following year, they then realise they can’t cater for the child’s needs. In one case, this happened to one family just months before school started. To avoid this from happening to you, enrol at more than one school – just my advice!
- Remember to ask the school what their enrolment policy is. Some schools have a priority of entry system. Schools tend to first accept siblings of families already enrolled at the school. Then if it’s a religious school, they might look at those families who are practising Catholics or Lutheran’s etc. Then they might go to their waiting list. It’s important to know where you stand with regard enrolment so be sure you understand each school’s process for enrolment.
- Most schools will not fund children with special needs in their Prep year but it’s always worth asking the question. Make sure you fully understand what kind of support your child will receive whilst at the schools (teacher aide time, specialist support).
Here are some things to do over the holidays to help prepare your child for school.
- Over the Christmas holidays, pack a lunch box for your child every day so that you can ensure they can manage the zips, clasps etc and that they are able to open any packaging etc. It will also help them learn to make choices about what to eat and when. If you know the school bell times, you could perhaps eat according to this time schedule. Some schools have a fruit break around 9:30am each morning where children are invited to eat some fruit (or something similar).
- Dress your child in their school uniform for an hour or two each day over the holidays. Practise putting on/taking off clothing, shoes and hats. You may need to practise tucking in shirts and wearing hats. If your child has any sensory sensitivities this will help draw your attention to them before school starts.
- If your child is sensitive to noise it may be helpful for them to start the day wearing headphones until the business of the morning is done.
- Many Prep buildings do not open their doors until a set time and therefore there are many people waiting outside the door to get in. If your child is particularly sensitive to noise and movement, arriving 5 minutes later than everyone else might be a gentler way for your child to start the day. Make arrangements with the school with regard this.
- I think it’s useful to communicate with the other Prep parents about your child and their needs. With awareness generally comes tolerance and understanding. In our case, the school compiled a letter, I found a paragraph or two about what Autism is and my husband and I wrote a letter explaining how Autism affects our son. We did this a couple of weeks into term. It would have been much better to have sent this information home in the first week of school.
- If you can arrange it, it’s helpful to take your child into the Prep classroom whilst it’s empty and quiet. Introduce them to the various ‘spaces’ in the room. Show them the bathroom and if possible, have them use the bathroom facilities. Show them where they will sit when they eat lunch and try to establish a good relationship between your child and the teacher. If there is a teacher aide in the room, also include them in this process.
- Sue Larkey has some fantastic free to download information on her website http://www.suelarkey.com/Newsletter_and_Tip_Sheets.php
There are free tip sheets for the teachers about how to create an ASD friendly classroom and there are also student profile sheets to fill out which introduce the child, their strengths and weaknesses to the new teacher. I highly recommend doing this. If your child attends a Kindy, Daycare of AEIOU prior to going to school, ask one of the staff to complete one of these student profiles for the new teacher.
- If your child is using visual supports at home, make sure the teacher is aware of these and ensure that these visuals are used in the classroom also.
- If you have an iPhone/iTouch/iPad and your child has been using it at home, then ensure that it goes to school with the child also. There are lots of fantastic visual scheduling, timer and other ASD apps available these days.