Tips and Contacts: Starting School with Down’s Syndrome

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This is a busy time for me as I help parents prepare their children for the start of the new school year in September using my One Page Profile Process.

I’m delighted to introduce my  friend Hayley Goleniowska who  is amazing as she writes, tweets, blogs, speaks and helps parents with children who have Downs Syndrome.

Here are her tips for  starting school

I think back to the time Natty came to the end of her pre-school years and remember the stress and worry, the form filling and meetings, all mixed together with pride that she was making this huge step. I remember a lot of tears and late nights and the invaluable support of many professionals.
Whether your child is starting at mainstream or special school, you will want to get through this process as smoothly as possible to ensure the right package of support for your child.
So here are a few tips and ideas that worked for us, as well as some invaluable support groups that you can consult for advice tailored to your child’s needs.
Tips that worked for us
1) Invest in the TRANSITION PROCESS. Natty knew the school she was going to because she had dropped her sister off there for 3 years and had met all the staff and pupils. Pre-school staff still invested a lot of time, bringing Natty and a small group of peers to the school for weekly play sessions in what was to be her new classroom with her new teacher throughout the last half of the summer term.
2) Make a TRANSITION BOOK. I took photos of key members of staff, teacher and TA and important areas of the school such as the dinner hall and the toilets. We then stuck the pictures into a scrapbook with the names printed underneath and talked about them during the summer holidays. This is important because 6 weeks is a long time in which to forget the great work achieved in 1). You could also use a talking book and record you or your child saying each name.
Meet up with children who will be in your child’s class for play dates during the holidays if possible.
3) Let your child make choices about their UNIFORM, perhaps choosing the shoes or school bag or pinafore/trousers from a choice of 2. Buy plenty of uniform (I stocked up on cheap second hand items) so that I never became stressed when it was dirtied, wet, painted on or even ruined. I bought 10s of pairs of cheap pants so they could be thrown away if beyond washing. Leave 2 changes of everything at school.
4) ROLE PLAY school at home. Let your child dress in their uniform and make a school corner. Make it fun and exciting and tell your child how grown up they are and how proud you are of them. Natty loved practising sitting on a carpet for a short story and then getting a star sticker for good listening. We also bought story and sticker books about starting school to share together.
5) Start at your CHILD’S PACE. Every child is different and their physical and medical needs vary. Natty was small and got tired very easily, so we started with mornings only and added one afternoon a week until she was full time. If she was tired at all I would pick her up at lunch time or even take a day off.
6) All children with a statement of SEN are entitled to FLEXI-SCHOOLING. This would not suit all children or families, but in yr 1 I chose to educate Natty at home each Wednesday. This allowed a slower, quieter day, where we could consolidate what was being learnt at school as well as working on life skills such as laundry or grocery shopping. We also had time to swim in the afternoons. We continued this until Natty asked to be at school with her friends every day.
7) Build good relationships with your child’s SENCO, TEACHER and TA. Don’t be afraid to voice concerns or worries early on, as they are probably learning as they go along, just as you and your child are. Use a home/school diary to write about the day’s/evening’s events for each other. Use photos to prompt talking about the weekend.
8) Don’t be afraid to suggest materials/methods that your child likes working with. Each child has a DIFFERENT LEARNING STYLE. See some of the sites listed below for ideas, or give the list to your child’s teacher.
9) Ask for an INTIMATE CARE PLAN to be made up if your child is not fully continent when they start school. This will include where and by which 2 members of staff they will be cleaned and changed. Changing table and wipes, bags etc.
This, along with any requirements surrounding eating, drinking or taking medication should be noted in the Statement.
10) There will be suggestions and exercises and from Speech and Language Therapists, Occupational Therapists, Physiotherapists, Educational Psychologists, Doctors, Computer Experts…

Sometimes it all feels overwhelming, but take what you can and what you think works best for your child and don’t fret about doing it all all the time. Remember that above all else your child must enjoy school, make friends and learn to be as independent and confident as possible. He or she is your wonderful child and not a case study. Enjoy your time with your child.


Read our Top Tips for Parents of a Child with a Learning Disability here.


Essential Contacts when your child with Down’s Syndrome is starting school.

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