When your child with special needs or disabilities is about to turn 3 years old, the State Early Intervention program will help him transition to the school system, if you want him to go to public school. Your child may start pre-school the very day he turns three and it can be an exciting step for a family, but it’s scary at the same time. You may feel that he’s not ready to attend school full-time yet or perhaps you don’t think he can face the challenges that will be presented to him without you at his side.
As parents, we don’t always realize that for kids with disabilities, school is not a restrictive environment where the child needs to remain seated for hours, forced to follow a general curriculum. School is instead a life skills pre-school to prepare the child for a future education. All the services provided by special education teachers are individualized and have been set in advance at your child’s Individualized Education Plan (IEP) meeting, based on the strengths and weaknesses of your child.
The most common concern for parents at this time is the lack of language or communication from their child. Common questions are: How do I know whether my child is happy at school? How do I know he’s not being bullied? How do I know he’s going to be treated with dignity and respect, if he’s not able yet to talk or communicate?
Here are some easy and useful tips that may help you communicate with your child about school. These steps will also increase his vocabulary and his ability to express himself, thereby developing confidence and self-esteem through the gift of alternative communication.
The first thing to do is to request that alternative communication be included in your child’s IEP as a positive way to help your child communicate at home about what he did at school. Reasons for requesting this activity to be included in your child’s individualized plan of education don’t necessarily need to be negative or create discomfort between the members of the team. This is not about doubting the teacher’s skill, but it should be seen instead as a way of promoting independence for your kid while giving him a voice through alternative communication strategies. Using these activities should help all members of your child’s team communicate better with him, which is a win for everyone!
Picture books or flash cards are always a great way of promoting communication. For this special activity you can request to visit the classroom in order to take pictures of the most essential items he’ll be using on regular basis. For example: Computer, his desk, bookshelves, etc. Even a picture of his teacher would be great for him to have. With these pictures you’ll be able to ask him about what he did during the day. You can open the book after school and ask him questions like: Did you sit at your desk today? Did you work at the computer this morning? His initial responses may be simple words like “yes” or “no” but eventually he’ll initiate these conversations as a natural activity when he gets home and you’ll look forward to the time together.
Request the names of your child’s classmates. Having pictures of them may not be allowed but you can still work with their first names, initiating conversations about what they did at school. This way, you can learn who might be your child best friend or who’s a good helper for him.
Maintain open and consistent communication with your child’s teacher. Remind her how important she is for your child’s development and show her appreciation. Teachers are our best allies when we learn to work alongside them as a team.
OTHER COMMUNICATION TIPS
Request your child’s calendar of activities. You’ll benefit from knowing what days he has PE, music or art. Talk to him about what he did in each subject and ask questions based on what you know he did that day. Ask him how he felt, what colors he used, if he played a team sport, etc. Flashcards can be very useful to motivate your child to show you how he was feeling during the activity by pointing to faces with emotion in pictures.
Know the daily menu. Most schools will send you the school’s breakfast and lunch menu on monthly basis. Everyday, ask your child what he had for lunch. If he’s not ready to talk yet, start the conversation with phrases like this one: “I know you had pizza today. Was it yummy?” You’re not only making him feel understood but opening his world to communication while reinforcing his knowledge and making him feel confident.
These simple tips may improve behavior and build self-esteem simply by giving your child the opportunity to express himself and communicate about school, one of the greatest challenges and accomplishments he’ll face in life. These strategies don’t need to be rigorous or forced to be effective. They should be natural, fun and engaging, in order for you and your child to get the most out of them!