5 tips to help your child with disabilities be ready for school and the world around them

As I study the scriptures, stories often come to mind about how the Savior treated people with disabilities. As a mother of a child with Down Syndrome and as a professional with a Masters of Education in Applied Behavior Analysis, there is a story that has always held a special place in my heart:

“And as Jesus was walking by, he saw a man who was blind from birth. And his disciples asked him, saying: Master, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind? Jesus answered, Neither this man nor his parents sinned, but that the works of God should be made manifest in him” (John 9:1-3). Then Jesus knelt and spat in the ground and made clay. With this sound he anointed the blind man’s eyes and instructed him to wash in the pool of Siloam. The man obeyed and returned seeing.

I think of the man’s parents who probably served and loved their child every day while the world around them offered misunderstanding and judgement. It must have been long days and tearful nights as they sought healing and refuge for their child. Their work and endeavors prepared him for the world he inhabited and ultimately the healing that would befall him.

Parents of children with various disabilities face so much, and perhaps one of the heaviest burdens we carry is preparing our children to take their place in the world. But just like this man, our children were brought here for a reason. You will have opportunities to show others the works of God. As parents, we can help prepare our children to thrive in their world, whether it be in school, at church, or beyond. I want to give you five simple tips you can use to help your kids navigate their upcoming school year—and ultimately the world around them.

  1. Prepare a “one-pager”. A one-pager is a one-sided sheet of paper that contains a picture of your child, their name, age and some information about them. It’s great to include things they are good at and enjoy doing, how they enjoy interacting with their peers and teachers, and their favorite TV shows, snacks, games, and music. You could also include a brief explanation of their diagnosis, things they would like help with, and how best to offer that help. You can then give this page to all the adults who work with your child and send it home to their classmates and parents so they can see how their children are like your child. This often helps open the door for other children to talk about their similarities and build friendships with your child.
  2. Plan an effective communication method. One of the most important things parents can do is learn from their child’s teachers how best to communicate between school and home. Some teachers prefer email, some have dedicated apps they use, and some even prefer a notebook to keep with your child where you can write notes to the teacher and the teacher can reply to you. Once you’ve determined how you’re going to communicate, make sure you use it. Some information that may be helpful to the teacher is whether your child’s schedule has changed – for example, whether they slept less than usual or ate less breakfast than usual. This could help a teacher better understand a child who is struggling with communication. It’s also important to discuss how often you will be sharing information with each other. For example, you can decide whether you want to communicate daily, weekly, or as needed. Remember that your child’s teacher will be busy with many students and assignments, so try to keep those expectations realistic.
  3. Reflect the school in the house. Children thrive on persistence. One way you can help your child is by doing things that school does at your home. If your student’s teacher uses a sticker reward chart, ask if you can get a copy of a similar chart to use for other goals at home. Ask what songs they sing, what books they read, and what games they play in the classroom, and try to do the same activities as a family. You can also learn what your child’s chores are at school and try to imitate those chores at home. One idea might be to teach your child to take their plate to the sink and wash their hands after eating, if that’s something they’re expected to do in the canteen. The more similarities your child has between home and school, the more skills they will acquire.
  4. Volunteer at school. As a working single mom, I know this can be difficult, but if you are able, be as present at school and in the classroom as possible. Try observing the other students around your child and see where natural friendships develop. This could help you plan birthday parties and play dates with the friends your child has already made. Additionally, volunteering for the school shows that you are willing to work with teachers and others as a team – they sacrifice so much for your child, and your willingness to sacrifice for them in return makes a world of difference!
  5. Practice change and disappointment. Children with disabilities often find great comfort in routine and promises kept. When routines change or someone is unable to stick to a plan, it can be very frustrating for them. Things often change at school or don’t go as planned, like an unexpected substitute teacher or bad weather that cancels recess. One way parents can prepare their children for such changes is to make targeted changes at home to help a child practice disappointment. For example, if your family goes to Grandma’s for dinner every Sunday, maybe in a week you could cancel those plans and help your child overcome his disappointment by talking about his feelings about looking forward to the next time he goes to Grandma’s going, and doing a joint activity that is also exciting, like baking cookies. This may be a very difficult exercise at first, but it can help parents and children learn the skills needed to navigate ever-changing circumstances.

I believe if we teach our children how to use their qualities, abilities and voices, we will see the goodness of God manifested through them many times. Sending our little ones into the world can be scary and overwhelming, but through small efforts we will also experience great miracles.
I think back to the blind man who, through spending time with the Savior and having great faith in Him, not only gained his sight but also learned that he and his condition were not a mistake or a curse, but an opportunity to do that To see the good and mercy of God in a real and tangible way.

Friends, go ahead and keep teaching your children. Continue to prepare them for the world around them and marvel as the Savior works in their lives to testify of His goodness and mighty miracles.

Leave a Comment