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Starting School With Special Needs



Early intervention is key to education when a student is starting school with special needs. Keep reading to find out about identifying children with special needs and how to help a student with special needs succeed when starting school.

 A variety of issues and situations may arise when a child with special needs begins school, depending on the child, the school situation, and the particular needs the child has. Here are some situations to be aware of.

Children Whose Special Needs Weren’t Previously Identified

For a child who’s special needs have not been identified, a number of issues may arise:

  • A child who has been happy and playful at home may encounter numerous situations in which his or her disability interferes with learning, making school a frustrating place. This may result in the child having a desire to stay home, lowering of self-esteem, and/or acting out, for example. 
  • A child who depends on the home environment and routine for support, now has to function in a completely new situation and routine, and may have difficulty adjusting 
  • A child who is bright and successful in many areas may surprise her - or himself as well as parents by not performing as expected, due to an unidentified disability. This may leave everyone in a quandary, or wondering if the child is lazy or “goofing off” until the disability is properly identified. 
  • A child who raises concerns and is referred (with parental permission) for assessment may find being singled out difficult and may also find the testing protocols stressful. The child may also have natural concerns about “what’s wrong with me?” 
  • A child whose special needs are appropriately identified has - after just beginning to make adjustments to school - to make a whole new set of adjustments to whatever measures are put in place: accommodations, adaptive technology, specialized instruction, therapy (such as speech therapy), etc.

Children Whose Special Needs Were Identified Earlier

Children whose special needs have been identified, whether through their preschool experience, a screening program, their pediatrician, or their parents’ observation, may have an easier time beginning school for several reasons: 

  • Accommodations, modifications, and adaptive equipment may already have been determined, and the current program can pass information to the school and (hopefully) successful methods can be continued. 
  • The child is accustomed not only to the routine of learning, but also to the adaptations/equipment, so the number of things that are new in school is diminished 
  • The child may have already experienced success in learning and built self-esteem, helping prepare him or her to approach new challenges with hope.

However, even if the child has had a beneficial pre-school experience, the changes involved in school may bring about some new issues: 

  • The school situation can pose additional stresses. For example, a child with attention issues who has worked in a small group may find the great number of students and activities in school distracting. A child who has felt successful in meeting his or her own goals may have more occasion to compare her- or himself unfavorably with more successful classmates. 
  • The school situation may introduce the child to a heterogeneous classroom for the first time, and the differences between their abilities and those of their peers can, unfortunately, become the occasion of teasing or bullying.

Research suggests that early intervention can be key to the outcomes for children with special needs. Early intervention: 

  • has been proved to enhance children’s development and result in their needing fewer services later in life 
  • can be so effective that children no longer qualify for special services later in life. • reduced stress on families 
  • is often federally funded

If parents have any inkling that their child may have some special needs, they should contact either their state department or education or their local school district for more information about screening.

Starting School With Special Needs sources

  • Keep Kids Healthy: School Avoidance [online]
  • Washington State Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS): Why Early Intervention Matters [online]