By Nakeshia Wright

Somehow, inexplicably, the school year starts. Summer vacations were had, swimming lessons were taken, and probably too many popsicles and ice cream treats were enjoyed. Throw in a few inevitable tantrums and occasional mischief due to summer boredom, and most parents will be sending their children off to school with a relieved grin on their face. However, if you’re a parent sending your child to an early education program for the first time, you may experience more complex emotions, especially if your child has a special need.

Try not to fret; there are plenty of resources and experts out there to help make the transition as smooth as possible. Inclusive early education programs, like the Frazer Center, are a good place to start. As an Inclusion Specialist, it is my job to ensure children with disabilities and their families receive the direction and resources they need.  Still, having an inclusion professional within the program is just one of many benefits. There is more and more research available that supports the benefits of inclusion for young children with and without disabilities. Studies have shown that individualized evidence-based strategies for children with disabilities can be implemented successfully in inclusive early childhood programs, according to the U.S Department of Education.

Once you’ve found an inclusive program that you feel comfortable with, check out the list below of things you can do to ensure your child remains developmentally on track. Starting your child with a special need at an inclusive early education program can be stressful, but remember you are not alone and the benefits and resources your child receives will be a tremendous tool for his or her future learning.

  1. Start the Individualized Family Service Plan (IFSP) and Individualized Education Program (IEP) process as early as possible. The process can be very involved and often overwhelming. Unfortunately the longer you wait, the more daunting it can become. While your child must be at least three years old to qualify for an IEP, it’s never too early to get help for potential developmental delays or learning issues. Starting an IEP/IFSP as early as possible not only ensures accommodations and supports for your child, but makes the transition from preschool to kindergarten much easier. This is particularly the case if schools in your district can not provide the resources needed for your child and other accommodations have to be arranged.
  2. Communication is crucial. Communication is important for every parent, but especially for parents of children with special needs. Most likely it’s your first go-around caring for a child with special needs. It’s not ours or the other experts you will work with. Has your child not been sleeping as much as usual? Is there a new fear to overcome? Are you confused about something on the IEP? Let us know! Not communicating upfront often leads to increased, inefficient communication down the road. It might also be useful to start a communication log. The notifications and updates you will receive about your child is significant and will only increase. Catalog them all together.
  3. Start a routine for before and after school. This only goes for older children that will be starting kindergarten shortly—infants have their own (albeit unpredictable) routine. Regular routines help kids cooperate, learn to take charge and keep a schedule. It gives them consistency, certainty, and safety. The structure at home regularly translates to good behavior at school, reducing time spent on negative feelings and distractions, allowing more time to learn and develop.
  4. Get involved. Any high-quality early education program affords plenty of opportunities for parents to stay actively involved in their child’s blossoming education. Join the parent-teacher committee, serve as “lead” parent for your child’s classroom, volunteer when asked. If your schedule is just too hectic to commit to a large time invest, at least make sure to always attend a parent-teacher conference, IEP meetings, and program-wide functions. Staying engaged is the most direct way to stay informed about upcoming events and potential policy changes. It’s where you strengthen relationships with teachers and administrators, as well as form beneficial relationships with other parents. As a parent with a child with special needs, program changes may affect your child more than a typically developing child. You are your child’s voice when decisions are being made, make sure they are heard.

Photo Credit: Frazer Center

The post was originally published on the Frazer Center blog and is used with permission.

nakeshia-wrightNakeshia Wright is an Inclusion Specialist at the Frazer Center in Atlanta, GA, one of the metro area’s only inclusive early education programs. In this role, she works closely with families, teachers, therapists, and other entities to provide the best possible experience for children with special needs. Nakeshia has worked for the Frazer Center since 2009 in various capacities including assistant teacher, lead teacher, and lead Pre-K teacher. She is reliable in using the Inclusive Classroom Profile and was named GAYC Certified Teacher of the Year in 2012. Previously, Nakeshia worked at the Muriel Humphrey Center in Woodbridge, VA (2005-2009) which was a day program for individuals with Special Needs from 6 weeks to 22 years. She began working with children with special needs in high school and has a Bachelor’s of Sciences in Communicative Sciences and Disorders from Hampton University. She’s a photographer, plays the piano and viola, sings, raps, and writes music. She also owns a t-shirt company (Be Brand Clothing) and button business (Take Notes).