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25 Ways to Make This the Best School Year Ever

Parents have the power

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Parents of children with special needs have a bigger influence than most on how their students make it through the school year. Be part of the solution with 25 ways to make this the best school year ever -- by organizing, by advocating, by participating, by any means necessary.

#1: Accentuate the Positive

Keeping your school spirits up may not be easy when you're battling teachers and struggling over homework and dreading report cards, but positive thinking and a positive outlook will put your child on the road to success more quickly than a negative, can't-do attitude.

#2: Dress for Less Stress

Adapt the strategy of "change the environment" to your child's most immediate environment: the clothes he or she wears. Often, adjusting an outfit can make problem behaviors less obvious or troublesome, and it's way easier and more effective than endless nagging.

#3: Do a Therapy Check-Up

After-school therapy can do a lot to help your child function happily and successfully in the classroom -- or add so much stress, frustration, and failure that all-around behavior plummets. The start of school is a good time to check and make sure all that driving around you're doing is really getting your child somewhere.

#4: Worry More Constructively.

When your child has special needs that impact on education, worrying about school may be unavoidable -- but it's not the most effective way to tackle problems, and it may make your child feel stressed and worried to watch you stress and worry. Make sure your worry's good for something, or give it a rest.

#5: Start a Reading Routine

Yes, even if your child struggles through required reading for all those classes, you should still set up a time to read together every single night -- there's no getting better without practice. Throw in a fun bookmark for motivation.

#6: Learn the Lingo

When you're standing up for your child's rights, particularly against people who may throw out lots of fancy terms to let you know they know more than you, it's important to have a good command of the bureaucratic language -- so study up on those IEP acronyms with a cheat sheet and a special-ed alphabet soup quiz.

#7: Keep an Eye Out for Trouble Spots

Your child doesn't just sit in the classroom all day -- there are other, less-structured moments that can act like potholes on the road to success. Stay informed on what your child goes through at recess, lunch, gym, in the restroom and on the bus, and know how intervene.

#8: Relieve Your Child's School Anxiety

School can be terribly tough for kids with special needs, and they need an outlet for all that upset and worry and anxiety and confusion and hurt and outrage: You. Be the best sounding board you can be.

#9: Make the Most of Teacher Conferences

They're particularly important when there's a specific problem, but meetings with your child's teacher are always useful for keeping up with progress and nipping problems in the bud; learn how, and how often, to have them.

#10: Be an Informed Homework Helper

You'll be a lot more successful and a lot less frustrated if you know what you're doing before you sit down to help your child. Consider these eight questions your assignment for today.

#11: Don't Skip Back-to-School Night

It's your once-a-year opportunity to hobnob with teachers and staff, roam the building freely, hear the official line on your child's education, and predict possible problems before they start -- why would you ever stay home?

#12: Keep a Contact Log

Getting what your child needs from school personnel is so much easier when you can quote the date you were promised something, who promised it to you, and when it was promised to arrive. Instead of leaving that stuff to your overworked memory, write it down in a contact log and be the master of facts.

#13: Pick a Pencil that Helps Your Child Write Right

For some kids, finding the right writing implement can make a significant improvement in the quality of their written work and their classroom behavior, so don't just toss some random box of #2s into your cart and hope for the best -- see if your child might benefit from a more specialized approach.

#14: Help Your Child Sit Still

"Sit still" is a demand adults can't help making, and too many kids with special needs can't help breaking. If your child's teacher regularly complains about your child's lack of desk-sitting decorum, come to the rescue with ideas for managing movement and increasing comfort.

#15: Teach Your Child to Use an Outline

If you're wondering how to help your child write without writing everything yourself, just think back to that old I-II-III A-B-C outline you probably used when you were a student; it still works, and it gives kids who need structure and organization just what they need to hang their own words on.

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