All parents are looking for ways to maximize their children's educational experience. As a parent of a child with special needs, you are likely focused on more than academics. You have probably met with speech, occupational, and physical therapists, classroom teachers, and behavior specialists. They have given you advice on how to work with your child and areas you can target at home. All this advice is great but can be overwhelming. Now your child's teacher tells you she will be attending a mainstream class with 25 peers and you're not sure where to shift your focus. These tips will help you support your child at home as she begins her new experience at school.
Academics Read, read, and read some more! Reading is the most important area you can work on because your child needs to read in a number of situations. Speak with your child's teacher about his reading level and materials and strategies you can use at home. He may be working on a specific book or program. He may use a shield so he can focus on one line at a time. Make sure you know what he has done at school to avoid confusion. Many parents find it difficult to maintain their child's focus because reading is a challenging area but it is crucial to make reading fun. Words are everywhere! Have your child read signs and posters when out in the community. Take turns reading every other page in a book before bed. Ask him to read labels on snacks. When he reads, praise him! Offer a special reward for reading, something he only gets after reading with you. Motivation is important to keep him working on an area that can be very frustrating.
Organization Organizing herself and her belongings is an important piece of attending a mainstream class. Your child needs to organize her materials in her backpack and desk, on top of her desk while she works, and while moving throughout the hallway and class. The pace of a mainstream class is fast and being prepared will help your child maintain the pace with her peers. Have her carry items in the grocery store and help her organize them in her arms so she doesn't drop them. Help her organize her backpack before school and adjust items so they all fit. When doing homework, make sure she folds her notebook back and exposes only the page she is writing on. Being able to organize her items will allow her to focus on the lesson and social interactions in class.
IndependenceThe less your child needs an adult to prompt him, the more seamless his experience will be in the mainstream. Start fostering independence in activities such as packing up his backpack, self-care skills, and eating. Make sure he can open his own juice box, snack bags, and lunch box. Make sure he retrieves and cleans up all materials during meal time and work time. The less he needs an adult to help him, the easier it will be for him to participate in class activities.
Socialization Borrow siblings, neighbors, and friends' children! Practice playing games, taking turns, and sharing toys and materials. You may want to explain to the peer models you are using that your child is still learning how to do each of these things. Tell them "Everyone has things they are good at and things they are still learning how to do. Henry knows a lot about animals and he is learning how to make friends." They don't need any more information that that and sometimes acknowledging your child needs help will help them understand their role.
Preparing your child for an experience in the mainstream class can seem overwhelming; there are so many nuances that can't be taught. Following these guidelines will give your child more than academic skills- it will make them a more confident, independent learner. The less your child has to worry about the "small stuff" the more time she has for academic instruction and establishing connections in the mainstream setting.
Continue to communicate with the classroom teacher regarding her progress in the mainstream setting. Let the teacher know you would like to reinforce skills taught at school in the home. As always, open and continuous communication will ultimately benefit your child, especially as she takes this big leap into a new setting.
Jennifer Cerbasi teaches at a public school for children on the autism spectrum in New Jersey. As a coordinator of Applied Behavioral Analysis programs in the home, she works with parents to create and implement behavioral plans for their children in an environment that fosters both academic and social growth. In addition to her work both in the classroom and at home, she is also a member of the National Association of Special Education Teachers and the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.