Back-to-School Tips for Parents of Children with Special Needs

Our Top 8 back-to-school tips for parents emphasize communication, organization, and staying up-to-date on special education news.

A new school year means a new grade, new teachers, new goals, and maybe even a new school! In order to help you and your child with special needs be as successful as you can be, we've put together a list of eight helpful back-to-school tips that we hope will make the transition into a new school year a little easier for you and your child.

Download this article as a PDF document.

Organize all that paperwork

In the world of special education, there are lots of meetings, paperwork, and documentation to keep track of. Try to keep a familycalendar of school events, special education meetings, conferences, etc. Setting up a binder or folder to keep your child's special education documentation, meeting notices, and IEPs in sequential order can also help you stay organized.

Start a communication log

Keeping track of all phone calls, e-mails, notes home, meetings, and conferences is important. Create a "communication log" for yourself in a notebook that is easily accessible. Be sure to note the dates, times, and nature of the communications you have.

Review your child's current IEP

The IEP is the cornerstone of your child's educational program, so it's important that you have a clear understanding of it. Note when the IEP expires and if your child is up for reevaluation this year. Most importantly, be sure that this IEP still "fits" your child's needs! If you're unsure, contact the school about holding an IEP review meeting.

Relieve back-to-school jitters

Just talking about the upcoming year and changes can help reduce some of that back-to-school anxiety! Talk to your child about exciting new classes, activities, and events that they can participate in during the new school year. If attending a new school, try to schedule a visit before the first day. With older students, it is sometimes helpful to explain the services and accommodations in their IEP so that they know what to expect when school begins.

Keep everyone informed

It's important that routine that will happen once school starts. You can even begin practicing your new schedule, focusing on morning and evening routines, and begin implementing them well in advance of the first day of school.

Stay up-to-date on special education news

Being knowledgeable about your child's IEP and their disability can help you become a better advocate for your child. Try to keep up-to-date on new special education legislation, news, and events. The more you know, the more prepared you will be to navigate the world of special education and successfully advocate for your child!

Attend school events

Take advantage of Open House, Back-to-School Night, and parent-teacher conferences to help you and your child get a feel for the school and meet the teachers, other staff, students, and families. Share the positives about working with your child, and let the teacher know about changes, events, or IEP concerns that should be considered for children in special education.

For more information about starting the year off right, please visit Reading Rockets' back to school section.

Reading Rockets (2010)


You are welcome to print copies or republish materials for non-commercial use as long as credit is given to Reading Rockets and the author(s). For commercial use, please contact [email protected]


This is a great tool for parents to help themselves in the IEP process but also their child who may be worried about having something different than their peers. I like the step by step interventions to try before the school year starts to make the transition easier for parents and child.The more participation the parents have in the creation of the IEP and meeting the goals the better for the child. I think that school meetings and events are crucial for academic and community support. Since the IEP changed from NCLB and IDEA, parents and schools are still learning how to measure academic learning if not state testing.

Cortiella, C. (2006). NCLB AND IDEA: What parents of student with disabilities need to
know and do. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota, National Center on Educational Outcomes.

The information provided is an excellent resource for parents of children going back to school with special needs, or even children who do not have special needs! I believe that each student can truly thrive if they have the support both at school and at home. I am a firm believer in the power of routines, organization, and remaining current on resources available as well as your child's IEP. I worked at therapeutic day school with children on the Autism spectrum and if there was not organization, routine, and a strict follow of the child's IEP, there was chaos and unintentional set backs in their daily activities. These set backs were often brought back home with them creating chaos at home with the family as well. The more parents become involved in their child's daily lives, even while they are in school and learning from other adults and peers, the more progress I have seen made. Get involved in your child's school! They spend the majority of their day there, I would encourage all parents to learn about and take advantage of the resources and possibilities their school has to offer their child.

I am currently working in a residential setting as a counselor. Every student we have has an IEP, which you can imagine makes a lot of work for everyone involved. This break down of the top 8 things to prepare for the new school year with a special needs child will be a very helpful tool. Many parents are not familiar with having an IEP for their child and are learning through a trial and error process as they go. As their counselor I often try to give them a 101 type information session to explain what the IEP is, how it will be implemented, and what their child's right are. This information your site has provided will be a useful tool to educate parents on the things they should be doing on their own outside of the IEP meeting, and how to better advocate for what their child needs. Often times parents will be compliant with what the school presents because they do not know they can request changes or disagree with aspects of it. Gaining the information that they can advocate for their child can ease their anxieties and concerns, strengthen the connection between school and home, and improve the quality of education the student is receiving.

I found this section to be very informative for myself because I am not a parent and I thought it would be beneficial for working in the field of education. I would like to use this as a resource for parents so that they can understand how to be involved and informed with their child or children's education. I think that this will be helpful for parents who are not as involved in their children's academics, but I worry also for the parents who don't try. I would have liked to see information on how I could encourage more parents to be involved. The communication log was also informative and helpful and as a future educator, I would like to make use of that for my side of parents calls, emails, etc. This is an excellent tool for all parents!

I think this article has some great advice for parents of special needs children. Adjusting to a new school year and everything that comes with it can be overwhelming for the student. Starting off the year on the right foot can help with monitoring the student’s progress throughout the year and opening up the lines of communication between the family and the school is critical. Keeping the parents, teachers, counselors, and other involved parties aware of the student’s IEP and any accommodations or concerns can help alleviate any issues before they arise. Establishing a routine after a possibly unstructured summer can also bring comfort to a student with special needs. I liked the related links, they offered more information on important topics that some parents may not be aware of. Being equipped with knowledge can empower a parent and help reduce their anxiety when sending their child into a new school year. Great tips!

Thanks for sharing these back-to-school tips! I found them to be extremely relevant, especially when working with children with special needs.
In addition to reviewing the student’s IEP and establishing before and after school routines, might I also suggest adopting Spencer Kagan’s approach to classroom management. Kagan's "Win Win Discipline Model" offers a progression of follow-up structures to help students move toward structures for long-term-success. It provides many helpful suggestions for teacher-parent-community communication and interaction. Like this website, it suggests that contacts with potential participants be made during the first week of school. Phone calls, letters, class newsletters, class websites and emails are all efficient ways to communicate throughout the school year. (Charles, 2014).

Sure wish y'all had been around 45 years ago when I was in Kindergarden in the '60's. Also, could you please re-post the IEP essay done in DR Suess speak? Thanks/Take Care

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