Special Needs to IEP’s: How to get ready for the new school year with an autistic child

Special needs to IEP's: How toget ready for the new school year with an autistic child

It’s coming… that first day… The new school year can bring up many feelings from excitement to dread, and if your child has special needs then going back to school has some additional challenges. Maybe you are like me and you are entering the school year with some uneasiness, anxiety, dread, and hesitancy.

Back to school can be challenging for a special needs child. The new teacher, new classrooms, new classmates, and new expectations. That can be overwhelming in itself.

Where to start

As a parent I have my own questions regarding my child’s safety, concerns with following his IEP, adjusting to new staff. So what can you do now to help ease back into the transition of heading back to school for you and your child?

Get back on schedule

Have you been a little off schedule this summer? Been letting your child sleep in and stay up a little later. I love a morning where my kids both sleep in, it is the calmness in the chaos for me. Logan isn’t a fan of waking up early unless he is sneaking in an early morning roller skate.

Gradually start working with your child, reestablish your bedtime and morning routine. Returning to school is a big change, trying to adjust to a new routine and bed times on top of school can make for some pretty unhappy campers.

Start preparing your child

young girl at library putting books in a pink backpack

Start talking to your child about returning to school. Visit your local library and check out books about school. Drive by your child’s school and show them their school.

Talk to them about meeting new students and their new teacher. Start explaining to them the exciting things they will be doing in school. Start counting down the days so your child is not thrown for a loop with the first day of school.

Get your child involved

Have your child pick out their favorite school supplies, ease them into the transition with their favorite book bag or lunch box. Let them pick out a shirt with their favorite character for back to school clothes.

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Back to school night

Boy sitting in chair at circle time in school classroom

Be sure to attend any back to school nights that are available for your child. This gives your child a chance to see the school, your child’s teacher, classrooms, and the facility. Back to school night is the perfect opportunity for a parent to begin a relationship with your child’s teacher.

If your school doesn’t have a back to school night, reach out to the school and see if you are able to provide your child a tour before the start of school. Show them the classrooms they will be in, closest bathroom, and areas of interest like the library, playground or gym.


It’s time to pull out the darn IEP again. It is amazing what can happen when you put those three letters together, huh? Who knew they could be so powerful and so frustrating at the same time. Read you’re your child’s IEP, look at your child’s goals.

The summer changes things for some children. Are these goals still appropriate? Did you child received outside services during the summer and make gains? Did your child not attend the end of school year services and regress a little? Do these goals need to be revised?

These goals are educational goals your child works on over the year. As you look over these goals is your child already meeting some of these goals?

Do they need new goals? Is their yearly review still a ways away, then its time to start making changes.

Every year IEP teams meet to revise goals. Did you know that you don’t have to wait to till that date?

Did you know that as a parent you can have the goals changed and revised by requesting another meeting and expressing your concerns to your child’s teacher?

Logan has a late fall IEP review, meaning that his annual goals won’t be reviewed until late November. If his goals are no longer appropriative for him at the beginning of the year, then that is almost 3 months of school that his IEP isn’t working for him.

Many parents often forget that they are an important role in their child’s IEP process and education. Many parents forget or don’t know that they can ask for as many IEP meetings needed to establish an appropriate IEP.

Know your child’s IEP

girl holding red pencil writing on a school assignment

Familiarize yourself with what your child’ services, accommodations, and goals are. Is your child supposed to sit closer to the front of the room for attention issues? Is your child supposed to have weekly speech sessions? Is your child allotted extra time for taking a test? Is your child supposed to have a daily visual schedule?

Knowing your child’s IEP helps to understand what your child needs in the education process as well as what should be happening in the classroom.
Logan was supposed to get speech services one a week outside of the classroom. It wasn’t for many months that I didn’t know that Logan wasn’t actually getting the services he was supposed to get. Due to the lack of providing the services that were in Logan’s IEP, I was able to get the sessions made up.

However, I wish I would have had better communication about his services ensuring he got his services and following through. I would definitely include some type or form that can record your child’s services.

This form can be placed in your child’s folder or binder to track services. Since Logan is younger in age I would reach out to the service providers and make them aware of the form to ensure that the services were documented.

In addition, knowing what your child worked on in their services allows you as a parent to reinforce what your child is learning at home to ensure the most progress.

If your child is old enough and capable to start to have some self-advocacy, go over your child’s services and accommodations with them so they are aware of what should be happening.

Is your child supposed to be provided with written notes for the lecture? Are they supposed to get extra time for testing? Having your child aware of their services and accommodations helps ensure that they are getting them and gives your child a sense of responsibility when it comes to their education.

Organize your paperwork

Having a child with an IEP can produce a lot of paperwork including medical documents, notes from teachers, progress reports, tests, IEP’s themselves are a lot of paperwork. Keep these papers organized. I followed www.understood.org to set up Logan’s IEP binder for school.

binder on counter with cover photo of toddler in pajamas, I.E.P. and motivational quotes

The front of my IEP binder has a picture of my son in his purest form of happiness, I have two inspirational quotes next to it.

I often look at this picture and these quotes as I sit in IEP meetings advocating for him for a nice reminder and inspiration.

I keep a copy of all email communication with his teacher and speech therapist, copies of his private assessments from his medical doctors, a copy of his current IEP, examples of his work including works he struggled with. I use dividers to keep all the areas separate and organized by date. I keep the most current paperwork at the front and work backward to the latest.

I flag certain emails and paperwork with sticky tabs I find important like Logan’s neuropsychology’s recommendations for the classroom, his speech-language pathologist recommendation for the classroom, and important conversations from the school. Having these flagged allows me to easily access the information during IEP meetings instead of having to flip through so many papers to find valuable information.

I also have a zipper pouch that clips in the binder, this pouch includes a couple pens, sticky tabs, and highlighters. I also keep a small spiral notebook in the binder to take notes during the meeting. Doing this now and staying current with the paperwork saves me a ton of time before his IEP meetings. The night before an IEP meeting is already stressful. Having my IEP Binder and paperwork organized alleviates additional stress, and holds me accountable as Logan’s advocate.

Returning to the Classroom

student desks and chairs in school classroom

When returning to school there could possibly be new teachers and new service providers. Provide them with copies of your child’s current IEP along with a quick note about your child. Include information regarding ways to talk to your child, information about your child’s triggers, and any tidbits about your child that you may find helpful. Most likely your child could be walking into a classroom and their teacher may not know anything about them or looked at their IEP yet.

The first couple weeks of school are always hectic and teachers and students are both trying to get their bearings. There may be other children in the class with IEP and your child’s teacher may be trying to match names to IEPs then to faces.

Providing a copy of your child’s IEP and information allows your child’s teacher to be aware of your child’s needs and your child’s accommodations are known on the first day of school.

Establish Communication

Attending back to school night and sending in your child’s IEP with a note on the first day is a great way to start communication with your child’s teacher. As a parent, you have to determine what is the best way for you to keep in touch and up to date regarding your child’s school progress. Do you want a daily communication log?

A composition book is a great book to allow you and your teacher to send quick notes back and forth. Do you prefer email or telephone calls? Do you like a fewer hands-off approach and only want to be notified with an issue arises? Talk with your child’s teacher so you are both on the same page regarding your child’s education.


Ensure that you place a laminated document in your child’s bag with their name, school, and parent contact information. I never thought that I would need to do this, I thought that Logan was riding the bus to the same school every day for over a year without any issues until it was an issue when he was dropped off at the wrong school.

While my son is verbal, the stress and fear of the situation took over and he refused to respond or tell them his name. If the school would have been able to open up his book bag and locate identifying information, the situation may have been handled differently.

Prepare now for a smooth transition

Returning to school can be an exciting and nerve-racking event for a child with special needs and their family. Start preparing your child now in regards to returning to school. Establishing a schedule, review and organize your child’s IEP, and establishing communication with your child’s teacher can help create a smooth and less stressful transition back to school.

Creating a working relationship with your child teacher is the best way to have a successful school year.

Read more about special education:

Parent Participation: How To Improve Your Child’s Special Education In School

Back to School: Why I’m Hesitant To Send My Son Back To Special Education Preschool

Read more about autism:

Autism Spectrum Disorder: What I Didn’t Understand About It

9 Early Signs of Autism in Toddlers and Babies: Signs I Missed as a Mother

The Autism Diagnosis: Why I Took So Long To Accept My Son’s

Thanks for reading! Comment below with some of the ways you help your child with going back to school? Share your tips and tricks for a smooth transition back. Oh, and Share This Post too! 🙂

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