Where did the summer go? It seems like we blink and it is almost gone. Hopefully you were able to enjoy some of the fun that goes along with summer, like swimming, baseball, and maybe even a county fair. With the start of school just a couple weeks away, it is time to think about ways you can get your child with Down syndrome ready to get back into the routine.
Most of us start with an earlier bed time and a tightening of the routines. These are really great places to start, but there is much more that you can do to make the back to school process a bit easier. Did you know that kids with Down syndrome tend to thrive with visual schedules and checklists? Here are two printable examples of checklists that you can use for bath time or bed time. You could also have one for getting up in the morning or lists of things to do when your child gets home from school. If you need help customizing a checklist for your child, please contact us.
Is there more you can do? That all depends on your child and your situation. Are they transitioning to a new school, or are they just moving down one room? Will the staff be completely different or will they just have one or two new people to meet? For cases where there will be lots of new things for your child to face, we highly recommend contacting your child’s special education department to see if you can schedule some time for your child to come in before school starts. That way they can get used to the new surroundings, have lunch in a new lunch room, and/or meet and get to know the new staff members that they might not be used to working with, without all the other kids around.
What if your school is unable or unwilling to let your child come in and practice? There are still other options to help get them ready. Social stories and video modeling can also help prepare your child for getting back into the routine. You can get generic ones that are available on-line or through apps like, Model Me Kids , Do2Learn , Watch Me Learn Better yet you can make your own by making an appointment with your child’s teacher and using your phone to make a video of you walking in to meet them (with your teacher’s permission of course).
While it is important for our kids to get to know new staff at school, it is equally important for us to help the school get to know our child. One of the best ways to do this is to make and or update an All About Me Book like the one developed by the Down Syndrome Guild of KC, that you can print and give to anyone working with your child who might not know them well. As parents we know our children better than anyone else and sometimes we can offer insights to our kids that the school has never seen before. Don’t be afraid to share your child’s abilities and your expectations.
Remember, kids with Down syndrome are visual learners. What that means is that they think in photos and movies (visual memories). Sometimes their stubborn behavior, that we are all too familiar with, comes when they can’t “see” what we are asking them to do. Don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of times where they do have visual memories and supports and just plain don’t want to do what is being asked of them. Helping kids get ready for school means helping them get the pictures in their head so they have the visual memories to get them through unfamiliar activities and places.
How about academic supports? There are lots of great resources to help visual learners pick up many different subjects more efficiently. Don’t be afraid to bring them up to your child’s teachers or if all else fails, and you can afford them, do them at home. Here are some of our favorites:
Handwriting- Handwriting Without Tears, TV Teacher
Math – Rock and Learn, Visual Math Learning, Visual Math Studio
Reading – See and Learn, The Learning Program, Raising Robust Readers, Special Reads
Language & Communication - Signing Time
What about your child’s IEP? Are you satisfied that it is meeting your child’s needs? If not, it is your right to request a meeting to update it. Generally we recommend giving your child and teachers at least two weeks to get in a groove or work out the kinks in any IEP or behavior plan. But use your instincts. If there is a serious problem, you can request the meeting right away. DSAA Nebraska has individuals available to go with you to local IEP’s to provide family support (schedules permitting). Contact us if you are interested having someone attend your next IEP.
Finally the last thing to think about is the social aspect of school. You might want to schedule a play date or two, to get your child used to interacting with their peers again. If your child is 2nd grade or older consider doing a Peer Presentation about Down syndrome with your child’s classmates. DSAA Nebraska can go to your child’s school and do the presentation or help you get the information to do the presentation yourself. Another idea is to go to the playground and set a timer to practice playing and then leaving when the timer is up. Finally, it is hard for all kids coming back from summer break to sit in a chair (or criss-cross applesauce) for longer periods of time. To get them used to sitting again, get a chair or rug and have your child sit for a few minutes, again setting a timer. You could sit across from them and read a book or review some of the information they have already mastered.
Practice and visual supports can be the key to a successful transition back to school!
You’ve got this. We are here to help.
Down Syndrome Advocates in Action Nebraska, is a group for parents run by parents.