It’s back-to-school season, and that means working your busy family life into some sort of school-year routine. While all parents of school-aged children will need to get sleep schedules and mealtimes back into a regular rhythm before the first day of school, parents of kids with special needs have to make numerous additional preparations this time of year.
At MGA Homecare, we know it can be difficult to leave your medically sensitive child in the care of school professionals every weekday. Being well prepared will help reduce any anxiety you may be experiencing. If you can get organized in a few key categories, you’ll be that much ahead of the game on day one.
Adjust Therapy Schedule
If your child needs regular physical, occupational, or speech therapy, chances are good that your school-year schedule will need to look very different than your summer schedule did. Many families book morning appointments or increase the frequency of therapies during the summer months. Obviously, the school day consumes a large portion of your child’s waking hours, and most of their energy, as well.
Check-in with your child’s in-home therapists to see how you can rearrange weekly therapy sessions to work with your busy new schedule. Moving in-home therapies to evenings and weekends may be required to let your child relax and recharge immediately after school. Remember that they will benefit the most from therapy sessions if they have the energy and stamina to give their best effort.
When setting your new schedule, take siblings’ after-school activities into account, to make sure you don’t double book with soccer practice or music lessons. If your child receives a certain number of in-school therapy hours through their school, consider how that affects the number of therapies you want to work into your week.
Follow Health Office Protocol
The school nurse is an important ally in your child’s educational experience. Be sure to express your appreciation and develop a positive partnership from the start by following health office protocol.
If your child will need duplicate medication to store at the school health office, have your pharmacy fax a request for any necessary prescription refills to your child’s doctor(s). This could be medication they will need to regularly take at school, or rescue medication such as inhalers or epinephrine.
Check your child’s immunization schedule to know if they are due for any booster vaccines. Bring your child’s updated immunization record to the health office on or before the first day of class. If your child has a medical exemption, be sure to provide proper documentation of their diagnosis to the school health office, along with a signed exemption form.
Drop your child’s new, unopened medications off to the health office on the first day and allow extra time to stay and fill out any necessary paperwork. Keep in mind that laws may require a doctor’s signature, along with proper dosing recommendations, for over-the-counter medication, such as antihistamines. Schools cannot store expired medication, so check expiration dates carefully to make sure they will last through the end of the school year.
504 Plans and IEPs
If your child has a physical or cognitive disability and attends a public school, they will likely qualify for either a 504 plan or an Individualized Education Program (IEP). Navigating this facet of special education is one of the most essential and impactful ways to advocate for your child.
While 504 plans and IEPs are different and are governed by separate laws, both are designed to ensure that students with disabilities have necessary accommodations and/or specialized instruction to succeed in school. They are funded by the government and are provided at no cost to families.
For students with disabilities who do need specialized instruction or in-school therapies, an IEP would be appropriate. Not all students who have disabilities require specialized instruction. For those who can succeed with accommodations in a mainstream classroom (such as hearing amplification, preferential seating, or extra time to finish written tests), a 504 plan may be adequate.
If you think your child will need a 504 or IEP, reach out to the school’s administration to find the best point of contact to coordinate an assessment. It’s ideal to have a plan finalized before they enter school, to make for a smooth transition on day one. If school is already starting and you have no plan in place, notify the school immediately of any essential services (such as tube feeding, for instance) that can’t wait for the formal process of creating a 504 or IEP.
If your child has an existing 504 or IEP, you will need an annual meeting to review it with school administration and your child’s new teacher(s). Allow the school some time to settle in before reaching out to schedule a meeting. Not only does this allow teachers and administration to get through the back-to-school chaos, but it also gives teachers the chance to get to know their students and recognize any potential trouble areas or challenges that will need to be addressed in the 504 or IEP.
Sending your special child to school involves learning new laws and procedures that may feel overwhelming for the first couple of years. MGA Homecare is here to support you and your child every step of the way. Once you adjust to your new normal, you’ll feel confident and ready to pass your expertise on to other parents who may look to you for guidance.