Helping children with complex needs settle into the new term

Post date: 
Wednesday, 31 August 2016

Ginny Tyler, Head of Children's health and care services at RNIB, explains how you can help children with complex needs adjust to the routine of a new school year.

Uniforms are bought, shoes are polished and sparkly new lunchboxes packed. The holidays are over and it’s time to start a new school year. But for some pupils, it’s not just the end of all that free time that’s a reason to be anxious. For children and young people with complex needs and sensory loss, change can be very difficult to cope with.
When the time comes to return to school for children with learning disabilities and vision impairment (VI), you need to remember that the room they got used to last year might not be the same this year; the toilet might be in a different direction, the sunlight might move around the room in a different way, the corridors have a different echo and the carpet changed to vinyl. Combined with the fact that they have just had four to six weeks of no school, this could create some problems.

What can you do to help ease the way into the new term for children with complex needs?

Few children would admit to looking forward to returning to the classroom after the holidays, but the security of routines for children with complex needs means that school is something that is familiar and safe. However, it’s important to remember that a new school year brings many more challenges to these children than just getting used to a new teacher.
Anticipate some reluctance to comply with going to school after the upheaval of the first day. So much change in a short time will take a lot of processing and often the easiest defence is to withdraw. Taking time to talk about what school means to them and appreciating that there will most likely be upsets is important.

Try to focus on the things that have remained the same, for example friends, the journey to school, or familiar staff members. Where possible, teachers can try to include the familiar with the new, such as sharing lessons with the previous year’s teacher. It’s like handing a baton in a relay, but in slow motion.

Once in school, the pattern of timetable and activity is a safe and familiar place for children who can’t rely on visual cues or understand complex instructions. The use of symbols and objects of reference to denote what to expect next or to choose an activity is another manifestation of the way routine is a key aspect of adapting to the environment. (Read Insight Online’s article ‘Helping children with complex needs find their way around’ for more information.)
At RNIB Pears Centre for Specialist Learning, we use routine and familiarity to help develop awareness of place and time for young people with VI and intellectual disabilities. Children with complex needs, including autism, learn how to navigate their world with confidence using repeated instructions and actions.
The important element of transition to a new school year is to accept that everyone has a different view and experience of it. For complex children and young people, the key is to keep them at the centre of the process and work with their individual strengths and challenges.

About RNIB Pears Centre for Specialist Learning

We provide tailored education, care and therapies to children and young people with multiple disabilities and complex needs who have vision impairment.

Further information

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