A Special Needs Back-to-School Check List

Back-to-school is fraught with all kinds of excitements and anxieties for all parents and school kids. But when the kids have special needs, there are extra challenges to be met. Use this special needs back-to-school check list to make your life an iota simpler this fall.

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    • If your child is starting at a new school, have you set up a one-on-one with the principal, the vice principal, and the special ed teacher? Have you met the nurse? Have you given them a copy of the old school’s IEP/504 or requested that they begin the process for one? Is your child fully registered?
    • Does your child have a diagnosis and does she have any of her testing done? Does the school have any of these results yet?
    • Is your child’s wardrobe appropriate for his or her needs? Does his uniform have annoying corners or seams? Does her new jacket have a collar that’s too high? Has he chewed holes in his old hoodie? Has she pulled apart her old backpack zipper?
    • Does your child have a fun, cool, and most importantly comfortable outfit for the first day?
    • You are the world’s foremost expert on your child, so I’m sure you’ve adapted his back-to-school supply list to his needs. But consider how often she’ll need to stow things in her locker, how much he can fit in his desk, how much she can carry in her pack, and what size pen he can hold comfortably.
    • Choose a pack that your child has worn for several minutes—loaded down—that doesn’t hurt their back. Consider one with a waist or chest belt that snaps closed and wide, padded shoulder straps for extra stability. A hiking pack is more expensive, but might be worth it. Here are some colorful, cool, highly rated ones:

HABA Terra Kids Hiking BackpackHABA Terra Kids Hiking BackpackDeuter Kikki Backpack - Kid's Turquoise/MidnightDeuter Kikki Backpack – Kid’s Turquoise/MidnightThe North Face Recon Squash Backpack Youth TNF Black/High Rise Grey OSThe North Face Recon Squash Backpack Youth TNF Black/High Rise Grey OSThe North Face Youth Recon Squash Backpack Honeysuckle Pink / Purdy PinkThe North Face Youth Recon Squash Backpack Honeysuckle Pink / Purdy Pink

  • Call the school—call early and call often—to make sure special equipment will be in place on the first day of school. Are the wheelchair ramps in place? Is the elevator working? Does your child have an adaptable desk in the classroom?
  • If your child needs a one-on-one paraprofessional, is one already on staff? Will there be one on staff ON DAY ONE?
  • Are your child’s therapy needs in place? All of them?
  • What is the bus schedule for this year? Where is the bus stop? (Don’t assume it’s when/where is was last year). Does your child need a special restraint or car seat? Is it in place? Make sure it is in place on the FIRST DAY.
  • Have you made sure the new teacher(s) have reviewed the IEP/504? Do they need a copy? Would they like a bulleted condensed version for simplicity? Don’t forget professionals such as the bus driver, the paras, the lunch ladies, the gym teacher, the art teacher, the secretary, the nurse, and anyone else who will be dealing with your child on a regular basis.
  • Speaking of the nurse, does s/he know about your child’s medical needs? Medications? What to do in an emergency? Medical equipment? Allergies?


Start right now because back-to-school is right around the corner and public school is a government entity. We all know what that means—red tape out the ying yang. They mean well and everyone wants the best for children. But you must be your child’s advocate even if it means being that annoying squeaky wheel. Don’t be afraid to piss a few people off if it means getting your child the educational support they have a right to BY LAW. Remember though that just because the law says they have a right to these services doesn’t mean they’ll be in place from day one. It is up us as parents (sadly) to advocate for our children and make certain their needs are met.

What are some super positive experiences you’ve had with back-to-school? On the flip side, do you have any back-to-school horror stories to share? Anything we need to watch out for? What are you doing to prepare this year? Let us know in the comments below!