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Learn how to navigate back to school for kids with disabilities while keeping everyone happy, like this Black father and child playing together on the couch.
Julie McIsaac
on
August 9, 2023

Back to school for kids with disabilities: Dear Teacher, meet my son.

It’s time for back-to-school for kids with disabilities and parents are thinking about how to talk with the teacher about what our children need. Here's some tips.

(Prefer to listen? Check out Episode 24 of Just Needs: a podcast about parenting children with disabilities)

It’s back-to-school season for kids with disabilities and many of us have been spending the last few weeks finding the right backpack, locating the missing lunch box, or buying some pencils and tissue boxes for the classroom.

Parents of students with disabilities are preparing in other ways, too. We’ve learned from experience how to keep the transition as positive as possible. We are busy making social stories and creating transition charts or visual schedules. And we ease our anxiety by reminding ourselves (and each other) that with each year come new experiences with new opportunities and new relationships (like the one with their teacher!).  And every year, we get through this transition and learn more about what works well for our child.

We all want the relationship between our kids and their teachers to be a positive one. To help get everyone off on the right foot, try introducing your child to their new teacher by creating a “Meet my child” document.  In 2012, Dr. Peter Rosenbaum and Dr. Jan Gorter published a paper entitled “F-words in Childhood Disability.” (Want to make a profile for your child? Use this free profile template). My version is a slight modification and my advice is to keep it one page and keep it simple. Attach it to the front of your IEP, bring it with your child to meet the teacher or better yet, if possible, ask your child to carry it along. How empowering!

I also like to write a letter and send it to my child’s teacher by email. Here is the letter I wrote last year. Maybe it will be useful to you, too.

Dear Teacher,

I hope you had a relaxing summer. I hope your emotional batteries are recharged. I know how much you give during the school year and how exhausting that is.

I appreciate that your life is more than your time in the classroom and that some days you need to dig very deep to enter the room with a smile or to repeat the instructions multiple times without screaming in frustration. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.

Let Me Tell You About Me

You will likely hear from me often. I am updating my IEP binder. I am hoping to schedule a visit to preview the classroom with my son. I have the checklists and I’m doing my best to prepare our home, our family and my son for a new school year (so many printable routine charts!) I am a bit anxious about the change in routine and the start of a new year in a new classroom. I’m also optimistic and hopeful that with new experiences come new opportunities for growth and learning!

Meet My Son – Your Student

By now you’ve likely seen the diagnoses and read the IEP.

But I want to tell you more.

I want to tell you that his hair is super short because he gave himself a haircut and we couldn’t salvage the locks. I want to tell you why he did it and how we are proud of how he dealt with it.

I want to tell you that there is nothing sweeter than the first good morning interactions with this loving child.

It’s helpful to know what he’s eaten that day and how it could be affecting his behavior. I see changes based on how the morning went, or his sleep, or how his brothers’ moods are impacting him.

I think it’s all important and I’ll want to tell you everything. I also know that I can’t tell you everything. I will follow your lead. So…

  • What is the best way to keep an open line of communication?

  • Do you prefer email or a communication folder?

  • Should we schedule regular meetings to check in on the phone or in-person?

You and I are entering a partnership around a very important person and we both want to be set up for success. Let’s figure out a plan together!

You have a lot of new students to meet. I can’t expect to flood you with details and ask you to know my son as I do. You’ll have your own impressions and perspective and that is valuable.  You will gather information from reports, testing and IEP goals and this will give you invaluable insight into my son’s needs. For a fuller picture of my awesome child, however, I would like to present you with the following document from my child, about my child.

Thank you for all you give.  It’s going to be a great year.

Sincerely,

Julie

Learn More:

  • Julie McIsaac, Ph.D.

    Child Development and Disability Advisor

    Julie specializes in working with children and families with diverse developmental profiles She uses reflective practice, emotion-coaching, play and a relationship-based framework to support skill building in the areas of emotional-regulation and problem-solving. Julie consults with families, schools and community organizations. As a parent, she understands the need to have a cohesive team supporting a child and family.

    Profile Photo of Julie McIsaac
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