Back to School and Your Child with Disabilities

Back pack, laptop and notebook for back to school

Creating a smooth reentry through structure and support.


It’s hard to believe that in a few short weeks, students all over the country will begin to head back to school. Summer flew by in a wink. Now the sunscreen and beach towels have been replaced with glue sticks and backpacks on the store shelves. As exciting as this time can be, the transition in seasons can lead to a lot of nerves and worry over the unknown for students and parents alike. 

This apprehension is only magnified as a parent of a student with disabilities. Whether your child has physical or cognitive limitations or needs mental health support, the change in routine from summer to the school year can serve as a great source of tension in your home and in the classroom. Here are a few “back-to-school tips” that can help you navigate the coming weeks a little smoother. 

Making Back-to-School as easy as 1-2-3!

A child standing, holding their backpack ready for back to school. Healing with music H h music
Prepare your child for back-to-school with these three steps.
Communication is Key!

One of the best ways to prepare your child and yourself for the new school year is to communicate with them about it. Depending on your child’s needs, this can be done in a few different ways. 

First, if it makes sense for your student, you can help them verbalize and process what the new year will look like, the things they may encounter and how they feel about them. Encourage them to discuss the exciting new classes or activities they may get to participate in. 

If non-verbal communication is easier for your child, another option would be to communicate through a visual “story” to help them prepare for this new season. You can create a binder that includes pictures of what their daily routine will look like. In our work as music and art therapists, we will even create song stories like this to help. Below we have shared a few examples as an illustration: 

Wake up → Picture of your child’s bed.
Brush teeth → Picture of your child’s toothbrush.
Go to School → Picture of your child’s school and a picture of their teacher.
Go Home → Picture of the school bus or your vehicle that will transport them home.

If your student will be attending a new school in the coming year, it’s a good idea to schedule a visit beforehand. This may include a tour of the building and possibly an opportunity to meet their teachers. Doing this will allow them to have some familiarity on the first day and can help to calm their emotions and worries. 

At Healing Harmonies, we can also help with this process through music and art therapy. Our art and music therapist can collaborate with you and your child during this back to school time to give them valuable tools through individualized music and art interventions.

Stack of school books.Healing the whole person milwaukee Harmonies
As you gather supplies and books, remember these easy steps.
Look Ahead!

During the summer months, it’s easy to have a more relaxed routine and structure. It’s so great to take a break and be a bit more flexible. But with the start of a new school year, structure and routine can be a valuable tool. It will help your special needs child know what to expect from day to day. You can help with this in several ways:

Start moving to a school time routine now. 

Don’t wait until the night before the first day of school to begin your school year structure. Make changes to bedtimes, screen times and meals times now to help minimize the shift for your child.

Establish a communication system.

This may be dependent on your specific school, but identify how you will communicate with the teachers and staff at your school ahead of time. This may be done through a physical communication log or digital option like email. However, knowing who you need to be in communication with and having that established from the start will help minimize the number of things that slip through the cracks. Bonus: Reach out to these key players before school starts to communicate any first day jitters or concerns. 

Review the previous years documentation.

If your child had an IEP or a similar education plan, take time to review it before school starts. Identify if there are changes that need to be made or if there is information that needs to be updated. For older students, it may be helpful to review the IEP with them so they understand what to expect when school begins. 

A child coloring in the background with a set of crayons in the foreground. Music therapy websites Harmony healing
Focus on your child’s strengths as they prepare for the transition into the school year.
Focus on the Strengths!

As art and music therapists, we see this often. Transitions may be confusing, change in routine may be frustrating, and the unknown may feel unsafe. It is only natural that these big emotions may elicit big changes in behavior for your child during art and music therapy. We encourage you as parents to not apologize for this!  As trained clinicians we understand that all behavior is a form of communication. Our job is to do the detective work in identifying what the underlying need is, then supporting the child in getting that need met in a safer and healthier way. Challenges are a part of every journey. It is our goal to bring out your child’s strengths during challenging transitions, and it should be the goal of their educators to do the same.

How Healing Harmonies Can Help

We are dedicated to supporting our clients through dynamic music and art therapy. We believe in addressing the person as a whole and that your child can live life to the fullest. During the back-to-school season and beyond, we are here to help your student experience less worry and have more peace of mind through our services.

Contact us here or your site therapist to discuss how our services can support your child through this time of transition! 

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