First Day of School Success Tips
Dan Coulter, July 26, 2006
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Most of us can remember some wonderful and terrible things about
school. In many ways, the first day of class can set the tone
for a whole school year. If you have a child with special needs,
or one who is new to the school or district, you can help lay
the groundwork for a successful year's launch with some basic
Start by anticipating things from your child's point of view.
What is he going to encounter and how is he likely to react?
Get in touch with school personnel and do some research.
. What will be your child's schedule?
. Who will his teachers be?
. What subjects will she take?
. What activities will he be involved in?
. How long will she spend at each activity?
. How will he need to physically move about the building during
I'm a video producer. I can tell you from experience that one
key to a successful day's shooting is scouting a location in
You can use this same technique to help ensure a successful
school year launch.
Contact your school staff before classes start and arrange a
"preview" visit for you and your child. Get a staff member to
explain what's going to happen on that first day step by step.
Do a location walk-through with your guide, checking out
hallways, classrooms, restrooms, cafeteria, gym, playground,
sports fields -- the works. Meet as many of the teachers and
other school staff who your child will encounter that first day
as possible. Discuss the schools rules. Find out what students
should and shouldn't do. If he'll ride a school bus, get the
details about pick-ups, drop-offs and the riding rules.
As you're touring, make some mental notes. Is your child
interested or excited about anything in particular? Is there
anything that he or she is likely to encounter that could
trigger a sensitivity or problem behavior?
The more familiar your child becomes with the school, the staff,
and what to expect, the better his chances of having a great
first day. Knowing what will happen can also raise her
confidence level and help her relate to other kids, as she'll be
something of an expert on her surroundings.
After your visit, write out a one-page profile of your child for
teachers and other staff. This should be a short outline or
bullet points, and not a treatise. Note your child's strengths
and challenges. Describe any difficult behaviors the school
staff is likely to encounter and any effective ways you've found
to deal with them. For example, you might note that your child
sometimes becomes frustrated and angry in stressful situations,
and that allowing him to go to a quiet corner of the room for a
few minutes will usually enable him to calm down and rejoin
You're not using the document to tell teachers how to do their
job. You're providing information to help them recognize what's
happening from your child's point of view and use their best
judgment to deal with the situation effectively.
It's best if you can use this profile as a guide for a
pre-school year conference with your child's teachers. At the
conference, you can hand out the profile, go into more detail
about your child, and answer questions. Having the profile gives
the teachers a resource they can refer to later, and helps lock
what you've said in their memories. If possible, identify a
staff member, such as a counselor, who your child can seek out
if he or she gets stressed or has a problem. Your child should
meet this person before school starts and know how to find or
contact him or her during the school day.
The more teachers and other staff understand your child, the
better they'll be able to respond appropriately to any quirks he
or she may exhibit. I found a great example of this when I
recently interviewed Karra Barber about her book, "Living Your
Best Life With Asperger's Syndrome."
Kids with Asperger Syndrome tend to take things literally.
Karra's son, Thomas, did just this when he got a call from a
counselor at a camp he was about to attend. The counselors
called the campers to introduce themselves and tell the kids
what to expect at camp. Karra called her son to the phone,
"Thomas...Tom, it's your counselor from camp!" When Thomas
picked up the phone, the counselor (having heard his mom call
him both Thomas and Tom) asked him what he'd like to be called.
"Ben," he said.
When Thomas and the counselor were finished talking, Karra
confirmed with the counselor that her son's name was Thomas and
they had a quick laugh.
After the call, Karra asked Thomas why he'd told the counselor
to call him, "Ben."
He responded that the counselor had asked him what he'd like to
be called and he told her "Ben" because he'd always liked that
It made complete sense from his point of view.
Giving teachers some insights into your child can help avoid
misunderstandings and encourage them to use students' different
perspectives to enrich their teaching. Giving your child a
preview of his school can help prepare him for success.
You can think of a school year as a mountain road with a lot of
twists and turns. A bit of preparation can serve as a guardrail
to help your child and his teachers keep his car on the road,
make good progress and enjoy the ride.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Dan Coulter is the writer/producer of the
INTRICATE MINDS videos that help students understand and accept
classmates with Asperger Syndrome and other differences. You can
read more articles on his website
Copyright 2006 Dan Coulter, All Rights Reserved, Used by
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