Veteran special education teachers know that the students who suffer the most anxiety are often the ones who are making some sort of transition. This transition can be from the home to a classroom environment for the first time, from one classroom to another or from one school to another. These transitions are hard for even the most capable students, so they are understandably even more difficult for students with special needs. As a parent or a teacher, you will never be able to eliminate all of a child’s anxiety or fears, but by being proactive, you can help to ease them. Here are a few guidelines for helping students with transitions.
Arrange an IEP Meeting Before the First Day of School
Most school districts require special education teachers to hold an IEP transition meeting when a student is moving into a new program or school. Such a meeting must be held sometime in the second semester of the school year and should include the student’s new teachers and service providers. For the sake of time, many districts try to hold the annual review (AR) and the transition meeting at the same time. If your child’s AR is due in June, that is just fine; however, if it is due in January, your student will likely forgot the friendly faces that he or she meets by the time he or she makes the transition. If the latter is the case, request an additional transition meeting or parent-student-teacher conference that takes place closer to the end of the school year. But know that while having the annual review with the old team and the new team is considered a best practice, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act has no provision requiring a transition meeting. So a parent can request it, but there’s no legal mandate for the school to accommodate the request. The exception is a transition where a student is moving from a more or less restrictive program triggering what is called a “major program change.” In this case an IEP meeting (in some states called an ARC meeting) is held to change the IEP to reflect the change of program. Typically team members from the old program and the new program are present. Transitions that are normal progressions, such as moving from elementary to middle school, do not require the same meeting, though many districts conduct them anyway.
Do a Test Run
If your child will be required to vary to his or her routine, practice these changes until you are confident that he or she knows them. Do not simply tell your child that he or she will be taking a new bus, walk him or her to the bus until it is second nature. Teachers should be prepared to do the same after school. If the student will be walking between classrooms, practice the route and have him or her guide you. Also, bear in mind that an empty campus looks very different than the same halls filled with thousand students rushing to class. Request that staff supervise during the busy first few days (or weeks) of school. If your child requires supervision during any or all unscheduled activities (such as changing classrooms, recess or lunch), ask for a schedule that clearly states which staff member (or members) will be responsible for this supervision.
Designate a Base Camp and/or a Friendly Face
If your student will be moving between classes, or from the bus to the classroom, chances are he or she will get lost during the first week. It happens. Designate a “base camp” where he or she can go to ask for directions. This can be the front office, the counseling office or a specific classroom. For students with special needs, the more visible the base camp, the better. Have the student practice finding this place from various points around campus. Also, designate a member of the office staff, counselor or special education teacher to be the “friendly face” who will help the student find his or her way or answer any questions. Your child should know his or her appointed “friendly face” before school begins, and feel comfortable asking that staff member for assistance.
Talk About It
If you notice that your child is exhibiting anxiety about a transition, talk about it. Ask your child to list his or her fears, from the biggest to the smallest, and try to address each one. Teachers can do this, too. On the first day of school, have students anonymously write their fears about the new school year on pieces of paper, and read them out loud as part of a group discussion. This is a great ice breaker, and helps to build trust between you and your students.