Back-to-school basics for kids with special needs

When you have a child with special needs, back-to-school prep requires a few extra steps. Here are some tips.
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Syona tests out her new school backpack. Photo: Anchel Krishna

Syona is starting junior kindergarten this fall. This summer passed far too quickly, and I knew we had to get organized to prepare Syona—and ourselves—for school.

Here’s a breakdown of my preparation, tips and the products that helped with the transition:

Share stories about school. Syona’s school sent her a personalized book detailing the experience of going to school. It includes pictures of the actual school. We’ve been reading it with her all summer as preparation.

Create a “resume.” After reading this great blog post on ICU Mom, I created a similar “resume” for Syona. It includes photos of her, my contact details and information that fall under the following categories: My Story, Diagnosis and Medications, Equipment, Strengths, Needs, Likes, Dislikes, What’s Next and About My Parents. Each of the categories contains point form notes that Syona’s teachers, educational assistants or therapists can refer to.

Find the right backpack and lunch bag. I didn’t realize that I needed to start shopping in July (seriously!) in order to find a proper backpack and lunch bag for Syona. Luckily, we found great options at Pottery Barn Kids with a Mackenzie small backpack and lunch bagperfect for pint-sized kids. We always work on increasing Syona’s independence and these bags help. She can help us pack her bag, and attaching simple key rings on the zippers makes it possible for her to open and close the bags all by herself—which is what every four-year-old wants.

Read more: School lunches: 15 easy recipes to help you pack like a pro>

Label your gear. Customized Mabel’s Labels help ensure all of Syona’s stuff comes home with her at the end of the day. Bonus: We’re working on early literacy activities with Syona, including recognizing her own name. With the labels, we can show Syona her name in all different sizes. As an additional plus, you can purchase the tags in a variety of colours which can be helpful for kids with visual challenges.

Try out school lunch recipes in advance. We’re doing a trial run with several recipes this week to come up with a variety of lunch menus that Syona will enjoy. Some of our new staples include the frittata and biscuit recipes in the September 2014 issue of Today’s Parent. Both are a cinch to prep during the weekend, can be customized for your kid’s taste and are easy to transport. We also found the Pottery Barn Kids Spencer Bento Box container was easy for Syona to open. I just had to unsnap it and she was able to lift the lid on her own—a huge bonus to aid her independence.

Stay organized. The 3 Sprouts Wall Organizers are perfect for keeping track of homework or picking out school clothes the night before.

September will be a month of transition for all of us. We’ll say goodbye to a couple of our caregivers because the hours when we need support have changed. That’s going to be tough. But we will get through it and continue to keep in touch with the lovely ladies who have taken care of our child like a member of their own family. But education is exciting, challenging and fun—and Syona is ready for junior kindergarten.

There are a lot of challenges that come with individual education plans and navigating the education system for kids with special needs. My sincere hope is that, by working as a team, we can maintain that spark in Syona’s love of learning. I’m excited—and a little teary—because my little girl is growing up fast. If the last year is any indication, however, Syona is going to love school—and they are going to love her. I can’t wait to see her thrive.

How are you prepping your family for the year ahead?

Follow along as Anchel Krishna shares her experiences as mother to Syona, an extraordinary toddler with cerebral palsy. Read all of Anchel’s Special-needs parenting posts and follow her on Twitter @AnchelK.

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