Helping your loved one with special needs navigate summer and back-to-school: Wendy Spitz | #specialneeds | #kids


Guest columnist Wendy Spitz is the LiveSpecial.com coordinator and a former social worker and intervention specialist. LiveSpecial.com — a project of NCJW/CLE — is an online resource catering to you and your family’s needs. The website offers innovative educational resources, links to services for temporary or long-term needs and access to support for emerging needs for individuals with special needs and those who develop special needs. Watch this video about LiveSpecial.com for more information.

Summertime can be tough when it comes to finding a balance between relaxing and learning. Children with special needs may require additional tools to really strike that balance.

While summer should definitely be a time to relax, many teachers and former educators like myself say, “If you don’t use it, you lose it.”

So how do we juggle relaxation and education goals during the summer months? Here are some suggested do’s and don’ts for you and your loved one with special needs to try this summer as you prepare for the upcoming academic year.

1. Do incorporate learning into everyday real life. Learning is not always about books, paper and pencil. Following a recipe, looking at a map of the zoo, ordering at a restaurant or counting change are all ways to practice important skills. Want to sharpen reading skills? You can look at street signs or even comic books!

2. Don’t be afraid to step outside of your comfort zone. There are great (and creative) ways for individuals with special needs to express themselves during the summer. Practicing skills that force them to step outside of their comfort zone can be great learning opportunities!

For instance, try to find a new playground or park to visit and explore. Visit a farmers market or an ice cream stand and try a new flavor.

Getting artistic is also a great way to challenge yourself. This summer, LiveSpecial.com is offering a great creative outlet through its “On the Road to Success” Art Show. October is Disabilities Awareness month, and to celebrate, there will be an art show at Eton Collection (28601 Chagrin Blvd. in Woodmere) featuring the artwork of individuals with special needs. Have your loved one submit their art here for a chance to be featured.

3. Do have a countdown for when school starts back up. It’s important to prepare and set expectations to ease your loved one’s transition from summer to back-to-school. And sometimes children, especially those with special needs, need to see and visualize what’s coming up.

Pro tip: One way to help individuals visualize the countdown back to school is to create some type of visual, like a paper chain. Make a paper chain with the number of days remaining in the summer. Each day, remove one link until you reach the start of the school year. This will help them gauge time in a visual way.

4. Do practice your back-to-school schedule. Confidence is important for kids as they head back to school, and there can be anxiety about a schedule change. Practice the new schedule — picking out your clothes, waking up, getting ready and even taking a trip to the school building.

Try a storytelling exercise with your kid by creating a social story — individualized short stories that depict a social situation. If you just learned that their teacher is Mrs. K, create a visual book with pictures to show meeting Mrs. K, what their classroom may look like and perhaps their new friends in the class.

Especially after COVID-19, when many students did not even return to school, this could be a game changer as they refresh their memories of the classroom setting and school routines.

5. Don’t forget that there are resources at your fingertips. There are so many amazing resources and experts in the community that are there to help you and your loved one on their journey. Check out LiveSpecial.com for more resources.

If you have any questions or want to submit artwork for the upcoming Art Show, feel free to call 216-378-2204 or email wendy@livespecial.com.

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