August 3, 2017

Preparation key to ready children with disabilities for school year

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. — Parents working to prepare a child with learning disabilities for the start of a new school year have several options to make the transition easier.

Mandy Rispoli, associate professor of special education in Purdue’s College of Education, said taking action now can make sure children with autism, learning disabilities or developmental disabilities start the year on the right foot.

“The transition back to school can be difficult for all of us, but may be particularly difficult for children with learning disabilities,” said Rispoli, co-director of the Purdue Autism Cluster. “Changes in routine and the increased workload placed on students with disabilities as they return to school can be challenging for students and families.”

During summer break, children with disabilities may lose some skills they learned the previous academic year. This can make the start of the new school year more challenging as they work to recoup last year’s knowledge and skills while also trying to learn new content.

One of the most important aspects is preparing the child for changes in their daily pattern before school, including the sleep schedule, and after school.

“Increasing predictability and structure of before and after school routines can help to reduce problem behavior, and to improve organization and task completion,” she added. “These skills are critical for success in school and beyond.”

Rehearsing the expected morning pattern with the child will develop their independence in moving through the activities. A checklist, either with words or pictures, provides reminders and parents should make sure to acknowledge the child once the list is complete.

As the school year begins, children may get less sleep at night as they are awakened earlier for school. Lack of sleep can impact the child’s alertness, mood, and ability to listen to and follow directions.

The practice of rehearsing patterns and structure can help the child with their after-school routine. A pattern such as emptying their back pack, organizing school papers and completing homework will bolster responsibility.

“Adding structure to the afternoon can help your child learn organization skills and stay on top of assignments,” Rispoli said, adding the use of color-coded bins or folders can help. Papers for parents to read and sign may go in one folder, homework that needs to be completed may go in a different folder and completed homework may go in a third folder.

Parents should take advantage of meet-the-teacher nights and school open houses to acquaint the child with their new surroundings. Reviewing your child’s education plan and determining how to stay in communication with the teacher are important factors to make the year a smooth one.

“To ease your child’s anxiety, bring them with you so they can see where their classroom is, can meet their teacher and can begin to prepare for that first day back,” Rispoli said.

Writer: Brian L. Huchel, 765-494-2084, 

Source: Mandy Rispoli, 765-494-7301,

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