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We have two children with autism attending school this year. One of them has an IEP, the other does not. Our daughter went through the pre-screening process, but did not display obvious delays. I have a feeling she’s not alone in this situation! There are likely many children who join her in having autism but not being, “autistic enough,” for an IEP. I do not blame the school system for this; however, it does inspire me to be creative in how I can help her navigate her new school environment. Here are five tips for helping your special needs child experience a successful school year – even without an IEP!
Speak with your child’s teacher
This can be intimidating. I never want to seem like the overbearing hypochondriac, but I do want the professionals in my children’s lives to be prepared if they encounter challenging behaviors. There is a reason for those behaviors, after all!
Plan for success
Create a routine, set up a visual schedule, write a social story. You know how your child best prepares for new circumstances, so make plans to prepare her ahead of time and set her up for success.
Teach coping strategies
When your child is in a period of stable functioning, initiate a conversation about coping with stress. Give them examples of how you cope and provide them ideas for handling their own anxiety. For example, “I get nervous about doing something new. When I’m nervous, I like to pull on a hair elastic that I keep on my wrist.” If your child has a preferred calm-down method, talk about that, or suggest something that they enjoy doing (i.e. playing with a toy, ripping paper, etc.). Our kids need us to give them the tools to manage their anxiety.
Supply a small calm-down activity to keep in the classroom
My daughter loves working with putty. It helps her calm and center herself. I supply putty for her teacher to keep in the classroom in case she needs it. Maybe your child uses a specific fidget or a weighted lap pad. Ask your child’s teacher if you can provide it in the event that they need to help your child calm down. A good teacher will want to see your child succeed, too!
This may not be feasible, but it will help if you can occasionally spend a few hours in the school. You can observe how your child interacts with peers, responds to demands, and handles the daily schedule. Remember that you can request an IEP evaluation at any time during the school year if you notice that your child is having a difficult time keeping up in the classroom!
How do you help your child succeed, even without an IEP? Share your tips in the comments!