06 May 2022

Tips for helping special needs children change schools

mother and special needs child

For a child, starting a new school is never easy but it is even more of a challenge for kids with special needs or a disability. Whether the family is moving to a new location, or a new school is necessary for the child’s development, the change in environment and moving out of old comfort zones can be a lot to handle. As a result, it’s important that every effort is made to help our little ones settle into their new school. This guide offers some tips for helping children make the transition so read on and pick up a few pointers for your child’s move.

Communicate with your child

Good communication, like in most areas of life, is an essential part of helping your special needs child make the transition to a new school. Make sure that you talk through the change with them so that they understand what’s going on. Let them know that you understand that change is scary but reassure them that they are not doing this alone, that you will be there to help and support them, as will their new teachers. By communicating and sharing as much information as you can ahead of the change, such as possible changes they might experience in their day-to-day, the more confident and comfortable they will likely feel about the process.

The Amazing K autism school recommends the following for parents: “Be mindful of what you are communicating to your child about the new school. Stay positive, let your child know they are not alone.  Reassure them that change makes a lot of people nervous, even you, but a new school or setting can also mean fun and new friends.”

READ ALSO: How to manage stress as a parent of a disabled child

Research the school with your child

Take the time to research the new school with your child. It’s all about helping to prepare them for a substantial change and a new environment that might seem scary at first. So, sit down with them and look into the new school, online for example, showing them the school’s website, photographs, and its Facebook page. By taking steps such as these, the child can become acquainted with the school before their first day and have less of a surprise than they might have done otherwise. By showing them what the school and their teachers will look like, the transition might become a little less daunting.  

Arrange a visit before school starts 

special needs child at school

Another helpful step to take before your child starts their first day at their new school is to arrange a visit before school even starts. The school might even offer this an option but make sure to take your child along so that they can experience the school with you by their side, without the pressure of an actual school day. Show them where the school is in relation to your home, introduce them to the teachers, and let them get a feel of the place so that on their first day it’s all a little more familiar. Do whatever you can to build up their confidence and reassure them that it’s not as scary as they might think.

Vickie, an expert in early childhood from the blog Vickie’s Views, and mother of a child with special needs, Jessica, has plenty of experience in this department. She spoke to us about her advice for changing schools and recommends arranging a visit: “As an advocate for families of children with special needs, my career helped create enriching school environments for Jessica and other families. Jessica changed schools several times, and as a result, we learned many skills for success.

“The first essential skill is positive communication. Everything else can fall into place if the school and you set the stage for honest, open, and respectful dialogue. The second skill for success is preparation. Preparing your child for the new environment and the school for a new student will help overcome unnecessary barriers. Visit the school and meet the staff before the first day.”

READ ALSO: How to be a grandparent to a child with disabilities

Inform teachers about your child

In an effort to make sure your child is well looked after and their particular needs or disabilities are understood, take the time to inform their new teachers about your child. Have a conversation with them about who they are as a person, what they struggle with, what they excel at, and ways that a teacher can better help them settle in. That way, the teacher will be prepared for their arrival, know what to expect, and can have all the info they need to incorporate the child into their classroom and help them thrive in their learning environment.

Informing teachers about your child is something that Vickie highly recommends: “I often conducted a disability awareness program for students and teachers, stressing what Jessica had in common with her classmates and explaining her differences.”

You can also arrange to meet the school’s SENCO (Special Education Needs Co-ordinator), who will be a key member of staff supporting your child as they progress through school. If a face-to-face meeting can be made between school staff and your child, all the better, helping everyone involved prepare for the change.

Keep a routine 

mother and disabled child

Having a schedule and keeping a routine can be helpful for many people to bring order to daily life. You and your special needs child have likely already found this to be the case, helping the child to have a reliable structure they can feel confident in.

Make sure to keep a routine in place when the child starts their new school. With such a big change, it’s important they know that not everything will be different. Routines help to maintain order and give a child a sense of control even when other things are changing. Depending on your child’s needs, break down the routine week by week, day by day, and even hour by hour. Ensure that home life is as settled as possible and put familiar activities in place that they can depend on.

Reassuring them that not everything is changing is definitely advised. If you are not moving homes, let them know that they can still see their old friends and go to their favourite places outside of school. Or if you are moving, inform your child that visits can be arranged and that they won’t be saying goodbye to their old life forever.

READ ALSO: Fun things to do with disabled children

Highlight the positives

It’s always important to remember the positives in any situation and this definitely applies to big changes in life that might seem scary at first. So, when speaking to your child about the switch to a new school, let them know that you understand it’s difficult but there are things for them to look forward to. Point out the positives of attending this new school and the benefits that come from the change, as this will help them recognise these good things when they start and help them to settle in. Talking to them about the positives might just help them feel more confident about things and even enthusiastic about what starting their new school might mean.

Be patient

Vickie from Vickie’s Views recommends the virtue of patience but admits that sometimes this is easier said than done. However, it’s important to try your best and understand the difficulties your child is facing: “A skill that is often hard for me is patience. Experience taught us that adjustment to a new school takes time for all children. There will be good days and challenging days. It may take some time for everything to fall into place, but we try to remember that change is good.”

How to help a disabled or special needs child change schools

  • Communicate with your child
  • Research the school with your child
  • Arrange a visit before school starts
  • Inform teachers about your child
  • Keep a routine
  • Highlight the positives
  • Be patient

Hopefully, these tips have been helpful. Here at Handicare Stairlifts, we are here to make home life easier and improve independence for those with limited mobility. If you think a stairlift at home might make your life easier as a parent of a special needs child, we have a range of products and affordable stairlifts prices, so get in touch today and find out more.

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