Back-to-school prep tips for parents of kids with special needs

Written by: Lara Cleary

For most parents, back-to-school time means buying the kids a new backpack and shoes, and maybe taking them for a haircut. For parents of kids with special needs, however, going back-to-school can be much more stressful for both them and their children than just a shopping trip to
the mall. Children who are not successful in school, either for emotional/behavioral or academic reasons, often feel happier and calmer over the summer break when they are not dealing with the demands of school. If this is your family’s situation, there are several things you can do to try to minimize the stress of back-to-school for you and your child.

Review your child’s IEP
Whether the IEP was drafted six months ago or just prior to summer break, it is helpful to refamiliarize yourself with the services and accommodations your child will be receiving in the upcoming school year. Check to make sure that the IEP still reflects your child’s needs or whether some aspects need to be modified due to changes over the past few months. Under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), an IEP meeting to review the IEP can be requested at any time during the school year. You do not need to wait until annual
review time.

Organize your child’s school records
If you child has been in special education for more than a few years, chances are you have a lot of paperwork accumulated from the school and outside providers. Summer break is a great time to review your documentation and develop an organizational system. I use an accordian file for my own child, but many of my clients prefer a three-ring binder. Not unlike tax documents, we recommend that you maintain your child’s
special education documents during the length of time they are in school. While a parent has a right to request a copy of their child’s educational records at any time under the Illinois School Student Records Act (ISSRA), it is still a good idea to maintain your own copy for comparison and easy access.

Request a back-to-school IEP for the beginning of the year
For both my own daughter and many of my clients, I frequently request that an IEP meeting be scheduled approximately 3-5 weeks
into the school year to ensure that the services are being implemented smoothly and to review and tweak the IEP. For children undergoing a significant transition (e.g., to a new school or new placement), I would not hesitate to request a meeting to review that transition. Ideally, we
recommend that this type of back-to-school meeting be included as a necessary accommodation in your child’s IEP, especially when experiencing a significant transition, but if that is not the case you can also simply contact your special education administrator and request it at the start of the school year.

Schedule a special back-to-school meet-and-greet/tour for your child prior to the first day of school
Many children with special needs need prior exposure to new experiences to help ease their anxiety. If this sounds like your child, we recommend reaching out the school to request a special meeting and/or tour with your child’s LBS and/or classroom teacher. This is especially important if s/he is undergoing a significant transition. However, for many kids, it is necessary even if they are just moving up a grade into a new classroom. Most Illinois school districts implement several days of institute training for school staff prior to the first day of school and it is simple for them to schedule time for your child to visit. As with the back-to school IEP meeting, it is recommended that you include this special meeting/tour in your child’s IEP accommodations in their IEP every year.

Lara Cleary and Jennifer Hansen are partners with the law firm of Hansen & Cleary, LLC. Hansen & Cleary is a boutique law practice focusing on the representation of children and families, individuals with disabilities, medical and mental health practitioners, private schools,
and other non-profit agencies in the greater Chicagoland area and throughout the State of Illinois.

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Posted on August 08, 2018 at 11:57 AM