Joe’s Jotter: The Best Ways to Navigate Secondary for a Student with SEN
Students who have Special Educational Needs (SEN) can struggle with various different tasks each day at Secondary School. As teachers and parents of first year students, we want to make their transition to Secondary School as smooth as possible.
The Additional Educational Needs (AEN) Coordinator manages resources for the one in four students (ESRI, 2017) who benefit from support that goes beyond standard classroom teaching. Resource Teachers provide such support and often facilitate learning in small groups or on a ‘one to one’ basis. Practical supports are provided by Special Needs Assistants (SNA’s) to allow some students access the curriculum as independently and inclusively as possible. Many schools have autistic classes where ‘best practice’ in inclusion means that autistic students are supported by the whole school community to develop their strengths, meet their potential and enjoy school life alongside siblings and peers.
This feature article should provide some sapient advice on how you can help your child navigate their day-to-day engagements more seamlessly. It also contains some useful advice and informative recommendations for Parents of Students with SEN that are already attending Secondary School (2nd Years upwards). As I see it, the support they require is twofold: ‘Home’ Support and ‘School’ Support.
The ‘Home’ Support
- Photocopy their timetable, have copies in their locker, on the fridge, in their journal and for their pocket.
- Photocopy their bus ticket. Have a spare ticket in their school bag, at home and in their school locker in case it is misplaced.
- Get colour coordinated folders. Give each subject a colour. For example, all English related work and notes goes into a green folder. Put a green sticker on the English textbook and English copies and colour code ‘English’ green on their timetable. If you have a map of the school, then the room where English class takes place should also be shaded green. Everything ‘English’ related is green and so on for each subject.
- If using a locker key, make multiple copies and get a springy key chain so that they can attach it to a loop on their pants or skirt. Alternatively, use a combination lock and get them to memorise the code between now and the start of school. Mark with nail varnish or spray paint to make it brighter and easier for them to see their property from a distance.
- Have a stash of spare copies and additional stationery material in a cupboard at home. Let them know where it is, so that they can draw on it as things go missing or get filled up.
- Have a morning checklist on the fridge for: books, lunch, keys, jacket, PE gear etc.
- If possible, arrange for them to tour the school before day one. It is also a good idea to do a trial run of their trip to school to get an idea of the route and timing. This will avoid any travel trauma’s during week one. Leaving extra time, if possible, is wise of course.
The ‘School’ Support
- If possible, arrange that they meet as many of their subject teachers and year head prior to starting back or as soon as is possible. This gives them certainty about who will be working with and helping them this year.
- Look into having a safe and reliable person that they can approach for help and advice in school on a daily basis.
- If they have a Special Needs Assistant (SNA), make sure that person has a copy of their colour coordinated timetable, a spare locker key and a copy of the bus-ticket. Provide this person with anything else that might smooth the transition back to school for your child.
- Make it your business to get to know your child’s Assistant Principals and Class Tutor as soon as the year commences. Connecting with teachers is always a good start to any year.
- Have a notebook that they can write in during the day in case they find something challenging. Both of you can reflect on it together when a suitable time during the week arises, in order to see what challenges might need to be overcome.
- For the first hour each evening, allow them to breathe and relax when they get home. Do not expect them to talk immediately after school. It is advisable to allow them some quiet wind-down time first.
- Advise them to choose/request a Locker at eye level and at the end of a row. This is so important, as all their classmates and other classes may be scheduled to go to their lockers together, leading to mayhem at times. Having to reach down with people blocking their path can be especially challenging for someone with social or communication difficulties. This is definitely one practical suggestion that will ensure they are on time for each class and that they can get access to the correct materials for each class quickly also.
- Encourage them to link up with a buddy or designated person in each subject class, so they can text them to find out what homework they have, should the need arise.
- If they are using a laptop, most Secondary School books now come with a code written inside to allow the eBook version of it to be uploaded digitally. This means they can leave more books at school each day, lightening their load.
- Getting to know the school secretary, for both you and your child is very worthwhile, as this person will have an awareness of who your child is and what their challenges are etc. With high volumes of traffic, any extra support or eyes around the Secondary School environment can help greatly for those who struggle in various practical ways.
- Be aware that your child may get side-tracked at times, realising then that their class is already gone to the next period. This actually happened to me in first year and it’s not a good feeling. Talk to them about what to do in this scenario. Again, an idea for them might be to go to secretaries office. Talking through a few of these little potential situations can really ease their mind as they will retain a visual of what to do should they occur.
To view last week’s feature article on ‘Transitioning to 1st Year from Primary’, click here.
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