And summer is over, just like that! Back to school again? For those with special needs like sensory processing disorder (SPD), Autism, or learning differences, back-to-school can be a major transition. In fact, transitions in general, are quite challenging, and not just for those with sensory or learning differences, but also those with anxiety or emotional challenges. What seems stable and routine becomes uprooted and unstable for a while until a new routine is established. But don’t fret, a few great sensory savvy back to school tips can mean a smoother transition, better attitude, and better back-to-school experience.
First Do No Harm
Stay calm. Be positive. Our kids need us to help them navigate through what lies ahead and they need a sane, steady captain. Whether you are a teacher or parent, keeping the raison d'être in mind as to why you are teaching or why you have children (did you forget?) can help you put this whole back-to-school thing in perspective. Everything may not go as planned, and that's ok. Stay calm and carry on. It will generally work itself out after a few days or once things get into a routine. Your child may feel overwhelmed or stressed the first few days or off and on for even a couple of weeks. Staying calm can help minimize the effects of stress and allay their fears. Don't forget to take care of yourself so you can be at your best too.
If school hasn’t started yet, now is a great time to start planning. There's nothing like a last minute scramble for supplies to send everyone into a frenzy, so try getting all supplies ahead of time. Read the school emails and print out the calendar. If you’re already into the throes of school, helping your child plan out a homework schedule and organize upcoming tests and projects can help minimize meltdowns and stress. And while you're at it, write out your child's sensory preferences. This can help your teachers and school met your child's needs much sooner. Does your child need a special sensory tool? Do they need sensory brain break activities more often? If you're a teacher, can you set up a calm down/sensory area or corner in your classroom?
Everyone loves something new, whether it's new clothes, new shoes, or a new backpack. But, no need to overdo it, and if your child with sensory needs has a favorite oldie, keep it around for a while until they transition. It may just bring them comfort in their new year. Favorite pencil grip? Keep it. Then perhaps get some other new supplies that are much needed like a wiggle or vibrating seat cushion for the classroom. Sensory tools for the classroom can go a long way in helping children with sensory needs to adjust to the classroom.
Meet the Team
As a parent, this can be accomplished before school starts, but even better after a week or two of school, or at regular intervals. Attend your student’s open school night and then set up a meeting with specific teachers, or the entire team to make sure everyone is on the same page with regard to IEPs, and concerns or goals for your child that you would like met. Does your school have a multisensory room? Perhaps explaining the benefits may be something that can be put into planning, and it could be a brilliant way to get teachers thinking about sensory strategies for the classroom. Try to understand how your school operates so you can be sure you have chosen the right place for your student. If they are not able to accommodate your child, perhaps you need to supplement, or look elsewhere. With that said, it is always advisable to work with the team and the current school. And, a face-to-face meeting can be highly beneficial. Come prepared with your questions and suggestions, and be ready to listen.
Be Sensory Smart
If you have a sensory sensitive child, be sure you to include sensory items for the classroom in their supplies. Chewies, weighted vests, fidgets, etc. can be placed in a pencil pouch for easy access. A sensory smart lunch with crunchy food items can give the jaw and mouth a great mid-day work out. Clothing that is comfortable and not bothersome can mean more attention to what really matters.
HALT: Hungry, Angry, Lonely or Tired
Hungry? Angry? Lonely? Tired coming in the door after school? Let's address those needs asap! A snack, a smile, play date, or a nap may be in need. We happen to love a sensory room experience for after school to reduce stress and make the day run a bit better. A sensory smart afternoon area, after-school sport, or activity can address a sensory diet and sensory needs.
Keep Them Moving
If we could only give one piece of advice, it would be this: Keep your kids moving. Whether it's a walk to school, after school sport, an after school therapy, or chores around the house, keeping your kids active will mean a better brain, a happier child, and a healthier student. This translates to motivated students, and of course a happier you!
With this useful information under your belt, you can make the back-to-school process easier and fun for your child - Have a wonderful school year!