Preparing Students With Disabilities To Return To School

This is the second article in our series of educator insights. In this second article, Leader of Learning Support, Kate Macpherson talks about how she’s preparing vulnerable students to return to school.

Many countries worldwide are beginning to reduce restrictions. They are starting to open up their town and cities to some semblance of the life they knew before covid-19. This includes schools. 

Our students have not stepped foot inside their school gates for a couple of months. Other countries will be longer. When my state government announced the return to school timeline, I asked my students to give me an emoji rating of how they felt. Their responses included 😩😀😥😐😁👍😫, and some a whole combination of these!! These responses were from my year 9 class and none of them have a disability.

Let’s Talk About Students On The Autism Spectrum

Since the announcement, I’ve had a few phone calls with families who have a child with a disability. The parents’ reaction has led me to wonder – how do we prepare a student with a disability to return to school? Especially students on the Autism spectrum. Many who have already struggled with all the changes occurring in their life, and that’s not including what is happening in the world at the moment. Change is not easy for these students. 

Some of the concerns raised in my conversations include:

  • I’m not looking forward to seeing my classmates
  • I’m worried about the workload when I return
  • What will I do without my iPad at school?
  • I’m nervous about seeing everyone again – I like being home 
  • I don’t want to wear my school uniform again
  • I don’t know what to expect when I return
  • I don’t want to go back to school, I like learning from home

So, how do we prepare our most vulnerable students at this time? 

Let’s Start Slowly

  1. Find out from your students what they are worried and excited about – it’s always important to focus on the positives!
  2. Normalize your students emotions, especially their fears of the unknown. As their teachers, we also have our own fears and worries about what is to come and how school will look and work.
  3. Ensure all staff who have contact with this student are aware of these feelings so they can respond appropriately for their subject. Have a common response so as not to confuse the student in these preparations.
  4. Be willing to talk about their return to school – don’t be afraid to have these conversations with your students.
  5. It is best to gradually build up their return to your classroom. Seek their feedback about what they liked about your subject or class during remote learning, and ask them to suggest ways it could work in the physical environment.
  6. Plant little seeds about changes your school is making due to social distancing guidelines and personal protection measures.
  7. Support your parents as well as the student – this is difficult for them as well!
  8. Encourage parents to gradually build up the transition back to face to face learning
    • Start putting on the school uniform gradually, adding one item each couple of days until they are wearing their full uniform in the last couple of days of remote learning
    • Slowly reestablish bedtime and morning routines that they would be expected to follow once back at school – a lot of my students are rolling out of bed a few minutes before their morning homeroom!
    • Start to bring back some of the pre-lockdown norms and expectations at home such as limiting screen time, (difficult when we are expecting them to still work on their computer during the school day, but this refers to the fun screen time).
    • Discuss the differences and slowly ease back on the fun screen time.

I do not know exactly what our return to school will look like at this stage, but I do know that there are many families and students who need our support to make it as smooth as we possibly can in such a time of uncertainty. I am aiming to keep them informed and to slowly build up their positive mindsets and willingness to cope with, yet another, change!

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Published on: June 2, 2020

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