Back to School: For kids with special needs

Back to School: For kids with special needs

by Elizabeth McAllister, clinical coordinator, school support program, McMaster Children’s Hospital

Change and transition can be hard for anyone and this is especially true for children with special developmental needs. Re-establishing routines and building familiarity when it’s time to go back to school can be an important way to help our children succeed. Depending on your child’s needs, you may want to:

  • Visit the school to see the new classroom, meet the teacher, and play on the playground equipment
  • Read stories about school
  • Arrange playdates with classmates or other children
  • Practice skills for school (e.g., using a lunch box, backpack, walking to the bus stop)
  • Start adjusting bedtime and wakeup routine to match your school schedule
Focus on opportunities

As the school year begins, take time to think about your child’s needs so you can anticipate any activities that might be challenging for them and plan ahead. It’s important to work with your child’s school team to make sure everyone is on the same page and understands the best way to help your child succeed.

Identify strategies that will support your child’s skills and strengths. For example, some children may have a difficult time with verbal explanations, but respond very well to visuals.

Choose choices

During the return to school, children with special needs may feel a loss of control and that can be stressful. Providing them with as much choice as possible can be a helpful way of giving them some control over the situation. For example, they could choose their back to school materials and clothes, or the snack they get to pack in their lunch.

Plan for a successful year

Teachers and school administrators are an invaluable resource. Regular communication with your teacher about your child’s progress, needs and strengths is an important part of their school experience.

If applicable, provide them with any professional reports that can help them understand how your child learns best. If your child has an Individualized Education Plan (IEP), it may be helpful to review it prior to the start of the school year to consider what new or ongoing goals could be appropriate based on their current skills. Share that feedback with your child’s school team.


You can get more back to school information and tips, from our booklet below.