Some kids can’t wait to get back to school, but when I was a kid, I dreaded it. I hated seeing the “back to school” advertisements that used to start in late August. I couldn’t stand going out with my mother to buy new school clothes. As August would wind down, I was increasingly nervous, distracted and unhappy. Being required to complete a summer reading list, I found myself way behind and had to spend the last weeks of summer vacation locked down in the house, in what seemed an endless tedium of trying to turn pages that went on forever.
I wasn’t a student with learning disabilities (LD). If I couldn’t stand the thought of going back to school, how do children with LD feel? For most students with LD, it’s a time of anxiety mixed with despair that the same routine of failure, embarrassment and self-doubt is about to start again. The freedom of summer is ending. Going back to school feels like returning to prison.
Transition is a period of gradual preparation and planning. Often, the fear of returning to school is fear of the unknown—new teachers, new demands, new students, new bus routes, new this, new that. So, how can we make this transition a better experience for children and teens with LD? Encourage kids to:
Make a point of meeting new teachers and reconnect with old ones, especially the ones who have been a part of their support system
If possible, plan these meetings to take place in the school building
Have the teacher go through new routines and expectations, breaking them down so they’re not overwhelming
Most importantly, talk with kids about their thoughts and feelings on returning to school. If they express fear, talk about it. Try to understand why they’re afraid and acknowledge those feelings. Then, as a team, discuss how to make it better. What aspects about school do they like? Do they have friends they can relate too? Any fun activities they can recall from school? What was the best thing about school last year? Bottom line: Try to help kids reframe the school experience into something less frightening and more positive. Don’t forget to encourage them to find their strengths, as you know they have a lot to offer. Help them figure out how to use their positive attributes at school.
Children and teens may not be thrilled that school is back in session, but with a sense of what to expect and a boost in self-confidence, they can start the school year off right.
Henry Reiff has authored several books about adults with learning disabilities, including Self-Advocacy for Students with Learning Disabilities (2007) and Exceeding Expectations: Successful Adults with Learning Disabilities (1997). He is the father of a teenager with LDs, and a blogger with Friends of Quinn, an online community and resource hub for young adults with LDs.