School Transition Strategies
By Jayne Dixon Weber
A new school can be tough for any child, and especially so for children living with Fragile X syndrome. To address this often difficult milestone, our in-house expert on education and support services created this essential list of tips and strategies based on her and other Fragile X parents’ experiences to help you and your child navigate this important transition.
Visit the School
You may want to visit the school several times before classes begin. Go with your child’s peers if that’s possible, and video these visits so you can watch them together later.
- Consider having a neighbor child or a friend walk through the school with you. See if you can gradually fade back and let the other child walk with your child.
- If you think the noise and commotion of the main entrance will be too much for your child, discuss an alternative drop-off/pickup location with the teacher.
- Walk your child into the classroom on the first day of school if you think that will help alleviate some anxiety.
Attend the Open House
Go to the school open house and take lots of pictures or videos. Include all the rooms your child will see in a typical day, the teachers, and anything else your child might be interested in. Share the picture-taking and video-shooting if your child is capable. You can then make a social story and review it before school starts. You cannot take too many pictures!
If you cannot go to the open house (or the open house is not held until after school starts), another thing you can do is go to the school when the teachers return (or sometime before the open house when it is not quite so chaotic). That is usually about a week before classes begin. Go walk around inside (and out!) and say hello to a few teachers. It is not crowded and quite low-key. A nice touch is to take treats to the secretaries and the teachers and anyone else who is (or might become!) special in your child’s life. You can take lots of photos or videos during this time, too.
Meet Their Teachers
Try to schedule at least a short visit with your child’s primary teacher. (Consider asking the teacher to meet you at an alternate location such as a park, restaurant, or ice cream parlor if you think it would help your child.) Give the teacher the profile of your child you have created. Point out some of the activities your child did over the summer, any vacations you took, and all the growth you saw in your child. Maybe you have discovered new strategies that worked well for your child—you want to be sure to share all you have learned. You might also share any new information about Fragile X that was announced over the summer. Here’s a few discussion points to use when meeting with your child’s teacher for the first time:
- Ask the teacher what the first day of school will be like. Maybe she can talk through it with your child or help create a visual schedule of the day’s activities.
- Ask if there is anything you can do to help get the classroom ready for the first day of school—cleaning, hanging items up on the walls, organizing books or other supplies. It is never too early to begin helping the person who will be such a critical figure in your child’s life through at least the next year.
- Talk to the teacher about your willingness to give a talk about Fragile X to the class (or to several of them) and/or giving a talk to the faculty.
- Request to meet with the paraprofessional(s) who will be working with your child. You can request last year’s paraprofessional to continue working with your child, or to at least be available to educate the new person.
Help Them Meet Other Students
Invite other children who will be in your child’s class over to your house—both typical children and those with disabilities. Serve ice cream or watch a movie with popcorn, or whatever other activity works for you. If the children are young, you can invite their mother (or father) to come along.
Entering Elementary School
Introduce the Playground
Visit the playground before the start of school. Climb all over the equipment! Try to get other families in your child’s grade to join you. Maybe get some of the neighbor children to join in, as well as some of their friends.
Entering Middle or High School
Adjust to a New Structure
Since your child will likely be changing classes every period, create a book with pictures of his or her teachers, along with their names and the class they teach. Review as often as you can before school starts. You may need to continue it for a while because the new structure is such a big change.
Go to the school before it is in session and walk through your child’s schedule with him or her, going from class to class. Talk about the route your child will take. Again, use a friend if you can.
Try a Sport
If your child is interested in sports, maybe check into your child being the manager for a team. Some of the fall sports may already be practicing. Offer to be the team mom (or dad).
Minimizing Stress and Anxiety
Be enthusiastic, but not overly so. Talk about it, but not too much. You have to gauge what your child needs without raising his anxiety level. Excited/enthusiastic is good, excited/anxious, not so much.
Talk about how the morning routine will change once school starts. You might even consider starting the routine a few days in advance. Have your child help you create the new visual schedule or whatever else you use to help keep him on track.
Talk about lunchtime—where it will be and what your child will eat. Will she eat in a cafeteria or bring a lunch every day? Have the same discussion about snacks if appropriate.
Here are a few activities you can try that have worked for other parents:
Create a Summer Scrapbook
Create a book with your child of all the activities you did this summer. It can be as easy as notebook paper tied together with yarn. Draw pictures, write stories—or perhaps you collected some postcards on a trip? While it may seem like the summer just flew by, this will help you remember all the things you did! You might share this with the teacher or there may a chance to share it with the class after school starts (a show-and-tell kind of thing).
Plan a School Supplies Outing
Go shopping for school supplies together. Go to a store at a time when it will not be crowded. Allow plenty of time so you don’t feel rushed. Think about what will work best for your child: Should you plan on getting all the supplies at one time or do you break it into two visits? You want it to be a fun time. There is nothing quite like picking out a new backpack! And brand new crayons and pencils—it doesn’t get any better than that!
Other Activities to Help Minimize Stress and Anxiety
- Practice walking to school (or however you get there) after breakfast one day before school starts.
- Select in advance the outfit your child will wear the first day of school. This will minimize stress and anxiety. You might even have a backup (just in case).
- Plan on a transition object for your child to take into the classroom, even something as simple as an apple or some flowers.
- Plan for a special dinner the night before school.
- Plan on what breakfast you will have that morning, too.
- Plan for a treat after the first day of school.
You might also think ahead and talk to their teacher for the following year about what transition activities you could start then for the following year. Having a plan spread out over a longer time will make it easier on your child and take some of the pressure off you.
Have questions? Need more information?
Contact Jayne at firstname.lastname@example.org
Special thanks to the parents on Facebook who contributed ideas to this article.