Back to School Tips from a School Based Therapist
It is safe to say that this upcoming school year is going to be a year full of winging it. Right now every parent has the same concerns, In person learning vs virtual learning, masks, what is the safest and most beneficial choice, it’s all overwhelming and nobody has concrete answers. These concerns are on the
mind of every parent and school employee but if you are a SPED parent these feelings could be magnified. If your child has a weakened immune system, how is my child with sensory defensiveness going to tolerate a mask? Our kiddos who love to love aren’t going to understand social distancing, and
something as simple as requiring pre packaged foods to be served as lunch can be a huge concern for the child who only eats burnt toast and bacon (its a real thing)
As a school based therapist my upcoming year with my babies will be unlike any other. Am I fully prepared? Absolutely not, but I have been looking through my caseload, every kid individually, and trying to prepare myself to give tips and tricks to parents and teachers to help each kid adapt to this new
“normal” for their school year. In the world of OT adaptation is EVERYTHING!! Making the world work for your needs is what I teach my patients….but this is on a whole new level! Buckle up, school year 2020/2021 here we come! Here are a few things to consider when preparing your child to return to school this year.
A social story is a situation, social interaction, or concept that is broken down typically with pictures and easy to follow content to help make understanding easier. They are frequently used with individuals on the autism spectrum but can be used with anyone!
A social story about the current “normal” or why everyone is now wearing a mask or the importance of washing hands could help a child better understand that that mask they see everyone in and that they are expected to wear isn’t scary, and that washing our hands is important and can be fun when the right
song is sung while doing it. Helping them understand, on their level, what is happening will help them have a smoother transition.
a few handy examples:
Masks are a new fashion staple for 2020 but let’s be honest, nobody wants a piece of fabric across their face all day, and to our kiddos with sensory issues this is going to potentially be a huge struggle! I won’t pretend to have the answer to this problem BUT there are some things to consider that just might make this transition a little easier for you and your little one.
The Fabric: Your face and mouth is a highly sensitive area. Not only will something be touching it constantly, the masks will be hot, and in most cases will get a little moist after wearing it for a while. The fabric of the mask is important to make it as comfortable as possible while still having it be effective. I treat kids who only wear 100% cotton shirts and can instantly tell a difference if that’s not what is on their body, they are that sensitive, so the right fabric is going to be crucial. Find some fabric that will be breathable and more comfortable but that will follow the CDC guidelines then allow your child to feel each option and make the choice themselves. Letting them choose will ensure that the fabric chosen won’t cause a defensive reaction.
Add some pizzazz: Does that Paw Patrol mask match the first day of school outfit you chose? Probably not, but pick and choose your battles my friends. Letting your child pick the color or pattern of their mask will go a long way! While I have neutral ones for most of my work days my leopard print mask is a favorite! A lot of our kiddos have something they adore, spiderman, trains, dinosaurs, princesses,
letting them have a mask with their favorite design will help them be motivated to wear it. Let them show off their personality and have fun with it!!
Practice: Getting a mask the day before school and expecting them to wear it all day is not going to go well I can promise you. Having them practice wearing it at home, when you go out, and increasing the amount of time it’s worn will build up a tolerance for wearing it.
fun mask ideas:
mask idea for adults:
Sensory seeking but social distancing
No matter how “normal” we try to make this school year, it’s not. There’s no sugar coating that fact and children certainly pick up on changes and uncertain feelings. As a therapist bear hugs, compression, and weighted vests are all things I use to help kids transition smoothly when they feel overwhelmed. Bear
hugs unfortunately don’t follow the CDC social distancing guidelines BUT the good news is compression clothing does. I have provided some students with compression vests per their IEP’s. As a parent you can purchase these yourself on therapy websites or Amazon but if you find they are a little expensive OR if
your child does not like to “look different” and wants to be discrete about it, wearing compression shirt/shorts under their clothing is a good option to add that little bit of pressure they may be seeking. As with the compression vest there are therapeutic options for this type of clothing but you can also find
some options at your local sporting goods stores. Under Armour is a popular compression brand and Amazon will also have a ton of options.
Some pressure finds
Along with pressure, added weight is also used as a sensory tool. A weighted blanket is a great option for your child to keep at school especially if your little one has nap time. They make weighted vests that look like denim for children to wear while transition classes or while on the go, so again this is a more discrete option if your child likes that added weight to feel calm.
This upcoming school year is going to be unlike anything we have ever experienced. As a therapist I’m adapting myself while also helping my parents and kiddos figure out what’s going to work for them in this crazy situation we are currently in.
Communication, making masks fun and fashionable, taking that
extra step to ensure your child’s sensory needs are met and that they have the items they may need to receive the sensory input is going to be crucial. Uncertain times do not have to be completely negative times, think of this as a time to grow and figure out ways to adapt the world to your child instead of fearing for them. All children are adaptable! Be persistent, make it fun, and they (and you), will grow so much this upcoming school year!