Back-To-School Tips for Students with Special Needs and their Families

By Sheryl R. Frishman, Esq. Littman Krooks, LLP

The summer has flown by and now it is time to think about going back to school. While this can be an exciting time, it can also be an anxiety-provoking experience. This is especially true for students with special needs and their parents. Here are some suggestions to make the back to school transition easier:

1. Do You Have Your Child’s IEP or 504 Accommodation Plan? Make sure you have your child’s current 2014-2015 Individualized Education Program (IEP) or 504 Plan. If you do not, give your school district a call or send an email requesting that it be provided to you as soon as possible prior to the start of the school year.

2. Has Anything Significant Changed Over the Summer?

  • Did your child have any new evaluations or even a new diagnosis?
  • Did new concerns, behaviors or issues develop for your child over the summer, which were not discussed at the end of the year IEP or 504 meeting?
  • Did your child make such significant gains or have a significant regression over the summer, so that the goals on the IEP are no longer meaningful?
  • Are there accommodations that you have discovered to be useful over the summer that are not reflected in the 504 Plan?

If the answer to any of these is “yes,” then you need to contact the special education office and let them know and, if necessary, call a meeting.

 3. Have You Read It?

Make sure you have read your child’s IEP or 504 Plan. Your child’s IEP is your contract with the district. The IEP speaks to what services your child is going to receive for the upcoming year and what your child is expected to achieve this upcoming year. Make sure you understand how your child’s progress is being measured. Will data be taken? How often will data be collected? How and when will you be provided with progress reports? If your child has a 504 plan, make sure the accommodations accurately reflect your child’s school needs.

4. Do You Understand the “lingo”?

In order to advocate effectively for your child and understand his or her IEP or 504 Plan, it is important to have a good command of the language used in the special education arena. There are numerous acronyms.


Click here for a list of the acronyms used in the special education process.


5. Take a Tour

If your child will be attending a new school, this is a great time for a tour of the campus to help ease nerves on the first day of school. Doing a walk through of the school before the school year begins  may reduce some anxiety. Locate his or her classroom(s) and look over the desk arrangement and the classroom organizational system. Find the bathrooms, auditorium, nurse’s office, and gym. If your child travels from class to class, walk them through their schedule.

6. Set Up a Meeting or Send an Email

During the back to school time, teachers are busy preparing for all of their students. To avoid confusion and to ensure a smooth start to the school year, set up a meeting or send an email to your child’s teacher(s). If possible, it is a good idea to schedule a meeting with your child’s teacher to review his or her IEP or 504 Plan. This is a great time to provide the teacher with special insight on your child’s learning style, ask questions about homework, or provide information about a special diet that your child may be on.

For many students, , it is also a good idea for the child to meet their teacher(s) as well as any other service providers who will be working with them to ease anxiety.

If a meeting is not possible, you may want to create readable “down and dirty” dossier, above and beyond the IEP or 504 Plan:

  • Start with your child’s strengths, but do not hold back on challenges.
  • If your child has an official “diagnosis” you may want to educate his or her teaching team about the diagnosis and how it may manifest with your child in and out of the classroom.
  • Write about how your child acts in certain situations. For example: how does your child act when he or she is angry? Nervous? Sad?
  • Highlight the accommodations and services that your child should be getting in school and why they must be in place for a successful school year.

If your child is in middle or high school send this to your child’s entire teaching team so all services, accommodations and modifications are applied evenly and consistently across all settings.

7. Communication is Key

Prior to the school year, it is important to set up the best way to communicate with your child’s teacher(s) and to understand how often they will be communicating with you about your child. Ongoing reports about your child’s progress are critical for parents to fully participate in their child’s education. For some students, that might mean a daily log sent home in the child’s backpack. For others, it may mean a weekly email.  Some may require parent/teacher conferences, team meetings or progress reports. Whatever it will be for your child, you should get it straight before the school year starts so there are no unrealistic expectations and to ensure everybody is on the same page.

8. Set Learning Goals Together

Sit down with your child and brainstorm about the goals of the upcoming school year. Let him or her talk; you listen. Focus on strengths as well as on areas that need improvement. Make goals attainable. Meeting goals empowers a child to meet tougher challenges later.

9. Remember: There Will Be An Adjustment Period

Sometimes parents are quick to say that a program is not working. As a parent of a special needs child, I understand the need to make sure everything is perfect on the first day of school. There is an adjustment and recoupment period built into each grade’s curriculum even for the student without an IEP or 504 Plan, It will take teachers and the other professionals that work with your child time to adjust. We cannot expect perfection in the first couple of weeks. You need to allow the teachers and other professionals get to know your child and his/her unique learning style.

10. Remember: You Have Rights

As a parent of a child with an IEP or a 504 Plan, the law affords you many important rights. Never feel as though you should not invoke those rights if things are not going well. While, as I mentioned above, you should allow for an adjustment period, you should never feel that you are “stuck” with a program that is just not appropriate for your child. If you are not happy with how your child’s school year is progressing request a program review by the Committee on Special Education (CSE) or a meeting of the 504 team.

11. Try to Stay Positive

Remember that teachers and other school personnel went into this business because they care about children. They are as eager as you are for a great school year ahead.

Finally, as school approaches, do not be surprised if your child’s excitement and anxiety blends with some anxiety of your own. Pay attention to your own stress level, and do what you can to send positive, upbeat messages to your child about the year ahead. Praise your child as often as possible. Remember to celebrate minor, as well as major, accomplishments. Above all, do your best to notice those special moments that make parenthood so rewarding!

Wishing you and your children a wonderful and successful upcoming school year!


Click here to download a printable version of The Language of Special Education.

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