Preparing a child with additional needs to return to school after a long summer break is about much more than buying new shoes, new uniforms or even a new bag. So often parents of special needs children need to do so many extra things like social stories, visuals, countdowns and preparatory visits. Change is a huge thing for many children, especially those on the autism spectrum. As much as I do everything I can to support my children I often find some of that work is undone by well-meaning members of the public who suddenly feel at back to school preparation time they can become best friends with my child and discuss all aspects of the impending change in their routine.

While I recognise fully that most people really just want to be helpful and connect with a child please can I ask that you are respectful of special needs children especially at this time of year?

  1. Please avoid asking my child a ton of questions!

My daughter really struggles with social situations and becomes very overwhelmed when strangers suddenly feel it is ok to ask her what year she is going into, what school she goes to and other much harder questions for a young child to answer such as 'are you excited?' All year long she has been taught NOT to speak to strangers and now all of a sudden everyone feels they have a right to talk to her as we look at uniforms in a supermarket or get her feet measured in a shoe shop. I find back to school and pre-Christmas the worst time of year for this and it upsets my daughter so much. She has a condition called selective mutism so is unable to answer which makes things even worse. Her twin brother is non-verbal so I find myself having to field awkward questions from well-meaning strangers far too often.

A simple smile would be more helpful.

  1. Please avoid bombarding my child with endless stories of your school days.

I have spent weeks with my children reassuring them about what they can have in their packed lunch or that it is ok to wear the school polo shirt as the tie hurts them too much. Stories of getting the belt for not having your tie on straight enough or having to eat lumpy custard for your school dinner actually frightens them far more than it amuses them. They rely on adults to reinforce school as a positive place not a place where others hated going to or could not wait to leave.

Remember the friends you made at school and the games you played and share those wonderful things instead please.

  1. Don't tell my child they are too old to cry.

Somehow society says it is ok to cry when your child starts schools for the very first time but by the next year they are expected to be 'grown up' and 'not a baby' and they are denied the emotional difficulty of separating from parents in subsequent years. Despite what many think it is heathy for a child to feel nervous, upset and emotional at such a big change to their routine whatever age they are. Please allow my child to express and process their emotions in a healthy way and allow me as their parent to offer the comfort and support they need. Not all children emotionally mature at the same rate so encourage your child to understand that and not bully mine for being upset.

It is so easy to forget how difficult it was for us as children so allow children to talk and share rather than mocking them.

  1. Don't pressure my child to perform.

My children are living life at their own pace. They try their best and I am proud of them for that. If you know a child starting a certain year of exams or tests don't make them feel inadequate or worthless right at the start of the year by saying thing like 'see if you can be star of the week this week before anyone else' or 'remember this is the year of your big exams!' School for all children should be a place of learning at a pace they are comfortable with and we ought to be encouraging them to do their best not simple be the school dux!

On the other end of the scale my son attends a complex needs school and people often don't even ask what he has achieved as they see his school as simply babysitting!

Share a child's excitement at whatever they achieve even if it was just being picked to give out the jotters that day.

  1. Don't just buy my child school related things please.

As a full time carer of two children with additional needs I am very grateful at your desire to help me out with the cost of pencil cases, socks, lunch boxes and whatever else. The problem is my children find this confusing and distressing. She would far rather a sticker book or magazine than a stationary set with characters she doesn't even like. She is not being rude or ungrateful she just wants to focus on her own play and time at home without having to make the mental adjustment to school during the holidays. She, like most children, lives in the here and now and therefore feels you care more about her school time than her as a person. Her time at school is a very small part of who she is so a cheap colouring book with those rubbers would be wonderful! Or even give the gifts to me to show her when her mind is ready and her anxiety low?

Of course every child and family is different and these are just some things that cause unnecessary stress to my family.

Thank you for understanding and supporting us as we transition once again to school days, meetings, appointments and fighting for support once again.

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