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“Don’t Make Me Go!”

Helping Your Complex Learner Transition Back to School

Pack up the backpacks and prepare the lunches – it’s time to head back to school! As much as you might be celebrating this return to order, it’s normal for kids to dread this time of year. It’s tough to transition back to homework and schedules after months of summer fun. But for Complex Learners their hesitancy to head back to the classroom may be more than just the end of summer blues.

Complex Learners are children who have multiple learning differences. Whether that be anxiety, ADHD, sensory processing disorder, or dyslexia – chance are they are no strangers to struggle. After years of academic struggles or social anxiety – it can be daunting to head back to the classroom. Then, add in the fact that we’re still in the middle of a pandemic and all of the emotional and mental stress that brings, and you could be left with a very anxious, frustrated, defiant child. By understanding how your child is feeling, you can help them process their feelings and prepare themselves, and you, for a return to school!

Here are 3 ways you can ease the back-to-school transition for Complex Learners.

Get Prepared:

Getting prepared means more than just picking up binders, calculators, and other school supplies (although be sure to pick up all of that!), it also means preparing yourself and your child for the start of school.

What will this school year look like? As we enter another year impacted by COVID-19, it’s important to help your child understand what will be expected of them and what their day will look like. Typically, you can gather all of this information by reading all of the back-to-school communication from your child’s school. This will also give you time to reach out to your child’s school with any questions or concerns before the first day. Once you have the information, review everything with your child well in advance of the first day of school. Typically, Complex Learners will need time to process the information along with multiple reminders.

With so much to already be thinking about, it can feel like the school year is already overwhelming. Take time during these last few weeks to get a firm handle on your family’s schedule. It can be helpful to get a large dry erase calendar to hang in a popular area of your house like the mudroom or the kitchen. Assign each family member a specific colored dry erase marker and have everyone get in the habit of checking the schedule daily. If your child is old enough, you can also have them help by writing their own activities (hockey practice, homework club, etc.) on the calendar.  This can also help you spot any gaps in your schedules like pick-up or child care issues and give you time to resolve it!

It can also be helpful to be prepared academically as your child enters a new grade with a new teaching team. Did your child struggle in math last year? Come up with a plan to help this year like finding a math tutor or purchasing an online learning subscription. If your child has a 504 or an IEP, review it before the start of classes to refamiliarize yourself with what accommodations and goals your child has in place.


We know you’ve heard this already but it’s always worth repeating – communication is key. Start the school year off with open and frequent communication with both your child and your child’s classroom team.

With fear about doing poorly in school, anxiety over making and keeping friends, or frustration over their own struggles – there might be a lot going on in your child’s mind as these last few weeks of summer wind down. Talk to your child openly about their concerns with the intention of not just reassuring them but working together to come up with strategies, set goals, and just build an understanding that you are always there for them to talk to. If your child is capable of understanding their learning differences, talk with them about it. It can help your child feel like their diagnosis isn’t a taboo issue that they have to struggle with alone. By talking with them, you’re helping them understand that they aren’t broken, it’s just the way their brain is wired and in many ways, it helps to make them who they are.  Yes, their struggles with ADHD might make them struggle to remember what to bring home to prepare for Wednesday’s history test but it also makes them creative, adventurous, and a great friend.

Your child’s teacher and classroom team are partners with you in your child’s education. They want your child to succeed just as much as you do and there are lots you can do to work with them and help to build that partnership. Before the year kicks off, take the time to talk directly with your child’s team. Help them learn not just about your child’s diagnoses, but also about who they are as a person. What motivates them? What have they struggled with? What are some of their hobbies and interests? As your child’s classroom team works to connect with your child, all of this can be valuable information that can help strengthen that connection.

Have Fun:

Our last tip to help with the back-to-school transition is simple – have fun! While it’s important to be prepared for the upcoming year, it’s equally important to enjoy these last few weeks of summer with your child and your family. Back to school can be tough on the whole family, so don’t feel bad for taking time to relax and have fun together.

Take the time now to plan a few fun weekends or after-school activities for after school has started. This can really help the transition for your child because it shows them that just because they’re heading back to school doesn’t mean that the fun is over! Organize a weekend hike with an ice cream trip to end it or plan an outdoor movie night with some favorite snacks! Involve your child in the planning process – you might be surprised at what great ideas they may have!

By working to help your child with their transition back to school, you’re already helping to set them up for success! What tips do you have for managing the end of summer blues? Share them in the comment section below!

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