For special needs students, the transition back to school can be overwhelming and anxiety-inducing. Neurodiverse students such as children with Autism Spectrum Disorder may struggle with new environments, peers, and teachers. Difficulties in pragmatics (the social use of language) or self-advocacy skills may hinder a student's ability to ask for help or voice frustrations. There are several steps families and schools can take to ease the transition. In instances when families do not feel heard, an attorney can assist them and work directly with the school district.
Practice Makes Perfect
Neurodiverse students thrive in structured environments which remove the guesswork and anxiety of the unknown. Changes as simple as a new desk or walkway to the bathroom can feel unachievable. Families can arrange for students to visit campus outside of regular instruction time to practice locating their seats, hanging up their backpacks, walking to the bathroom, etc.
Positivity and Patience Pays Off
The stress of returning to school may also exacerbate a student's disruptive and off-task behaviors until they feel comfortable in their new environments. Families may feel inundated at the beginning of the school year with reports of outbursts or refusal to engage in the curriculum. Families should remember that there are legal protections in place for special-needs students, and schools are obligated to evaluate their educational needs and setting before resorting to disciplinary responses.
Secondly, families should remain patient with their students and remember that the transition may take some time. It's easy for parents to feel overwhelmed, and setbacks in their student's behaviors may feel like a failure on their part. Families should reflect on the many obstacles their student has overcome in years prior and hold onto hope that their student can navigate a new environment.
Review Accommodations and Modifications
If the student already has a special education program in place, either through a Section 504 Plan or an Individualized Education Plan (“IEP”), it's best to thoroughly review the plan at the beginning of the school year and ensure everyone is on the same page. For example, a common accommodation for students with ADHD may be breaks or short walks when they are overwhelmed or fidgety. A student in this scenario should know they have this accommodation and even practice asking for a break on their own before it's time to ask their teacher or staff member. Parents or older students should reach out to the teachers at the beginning of the school year and discuss how the accommodations and modifications will be implemented in their classroom.
Families may have also discovered certain approaches to their student's behaviors which were beneficial over the summer break. In this case, families should reach out to the school's administration to discuss adding these accommodations to the student's plan for the school year. If the school or the administration is resistant to working with the family, parents should remember that schools are legally required to address a student's needs promptly and appropriately. Families should also seek the assistance of a qualified education attorney early on to encourage the school to be responsive throughout the rest of the year.
Helping Students and Parents Across the United States
If your student's school is not responding to your concerns or ensuring that your student's academic environment is appropriate for their needs, contact attorney Joseph D. Lento and the Lento Law firm by calling 888-535-3686 for help.