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Getting Through to the End of the School Year

Special needs mom, Clinical and School Psychologist
03/12/20  9:40 AM PST
the end of the school year

As you and your child are getting ready for the end of the school year, you are likely anxious about several things, such as your upcoming IEP meeting, increased academic demands, sensory challenges, and your child’s schedule, just to name a few. You are not alone in feeling this way. We are all right there with you.

After spring break, it’s time to re-acclimate to early wake ups, regular bed time, and our winter activities and therapies. Although it is a time for more structure and consistency, you may find your child resisting getting ready for school, eating less or more, or not wanting to get in and out of the car. You may notice complaints about stomachaches or headaches. You may find that your child is struggling to transitioning back to home, beginning and finishing homework, and wants to return to the less demanding schedule of the holidays of cookies, late nights, and TV/screen time.

Call a Meeting of the Minds

It’s that time of the year when your child has had enough time for your teacher(s) to know your child’s learning style, need for supports, attention span and sensory needs. With that said, call a meeting with your child’s team of teachers, whether at the elementary, middle or high school level, and your case manager. Ask your teachers to speak to your child’s strengths and weaknesses, academically, socially, behaviorally and emotionally. Review your child’s sensory profile and sensory diet needs. Let them know what to look for when your child’s anxiety or sensory over-stimulation is building. Let them know the signs so meltdowns can be prevented, which will ultimately help your child feel safe within the classroom.

While you’re at it, review your child’s academic profile and share what type of assignments are likely to trigger fear or dysregulation. For example, will the presentation of an assignment such as writing a five paragraph essay result in your child shutting down, ripping paper, walking out or crying? Then, let’s plan ahead and ask your child’s teacher or paraprofessional to break down a complex task, such as writing, into smaller assignments that are presented and completed in chunks.

Now that you’ve opened up the doors to communication, maintain it! Your next meeting will likely be your Annual Review meeting. If that isn’t coming up until the end of the school year, request another meeting with the same cast again in 2 months so that you have an idea of what your child’s program and related services needs will be in anticipation of your upcoming Annual Review meeting.

Incorporate a Sensory Diet into the Schedule

If you know your child is likely overwhelmed and exhausted by third period or the third class of the day, then build in a calming sensory diet exercise each day. Instead of waiting for over-stimulation, be proactive and build in deep pressure, heavy work or movement before your child gets to the point of not being able to verbalize or gesture that she needs a break.

This works at home too. If you know that the end of the school day is stressful and overstimulating between packing up, traveling through the hallways, finding the school bus or mom’s car, then build in some decompression time between pick up and the start of homework.  That may mean buckling up in silence and keeping it that way for 30-45 minutes, even after you arrive at home. If your child takes the bus home, then quiet time begins soon thereafter. Dim the lights, turn off the TV, iPod and/or iPad and build a quiet nest for your child in your home (e.g., a bean bag in the bedroom with soft music in the background).

At Home

Keep it consistent.  Parents, set a routine to the evening. You may not be able to follow the same order each day, but you may be able to follow the same order each Wednesday. So, that means getting ready for bed, at the same time each night, getting into bed the same time each night, and waking up at around the same time each morning. If your child seems like he needs more rest, start the bedtime routine 15 minutes earlier each night until you reach the bedtime you are striving for. If necessary, create a visual depiction of the order of events that are to take place so that your child can anticipate what’s next in the morning and evening routine.

Easing into “Sweet Dreams”.  At home, you may want to practice deep breathing with your child before bed as a way to relax. That is, talk about what it feels like to be overwhelmed or scared. Does your child grind his teeth? Clench his fists? Does her stomach hurt? Does her head feel tight? When this happens, encourage your child to engage in deep breathing by taking in 5 deep breaths each through the nose, out the nose; through the nose, out the mouth; in through the nose, out the mouth; in through the mouth; out the mouth). With eyes closed and hands on legs, take those deep breaths and visualize chasing the day’s stressors away.

Fun Time. In an effort to maintain a positive home environment, declare every other Friday a family night where you play games, watch movies, go out to dinner or for ice cream as a way to bond on a regular basis.  This allows for open communication about areas of conflict in a calm and nurturing manner.

Wishing you all a wonderful 2020 and a great end of the school year!

Dr. Liz Matheis

 

Dr. Liz Matheis is a licensed Clinical Psychologist and certified School Psychologist who specializes in working with children with ADHD, Anxiety, Autism, Learning Disabilities, and behavioral struggles. She is also mom to three children, one with special needs. Her practice, Psychological and Education Consulting, is located in Livingston, New Jersey.

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