Things to Remember When Your Child With Special Needs Starts School
special needs back to school advice from Stephanie Hanrahan, mommy blogger
Words Stephanie Hanrahan
Published September 2019
Updated September 30, 2019
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School is officially back in action, but time spent thinking on how to make that transition a little easier for next year (or even just coming back from winter break) is a year round matter. Check out what one of our Mommy Bloggers has to say on the subject.


A few weeks ago, I handed over the keys to my most valuable commodity—my child.
She marched into kindergarten, without me.
She ate lunch, laughed, sang, read stories and started creating her own. Without me.
She never seemed so small and incapable than the day I dropped her off.
Is she ready? Did we do enough? Will the wrong people break her incredible spirit?
I don’t know. Because she’ll be doing it all without me.

The beginning of school is scary as beginnings usually are. It’s frightening to think of a 5-year-old, or even a 15-year-old, wandering halls and tackling life on their own. I have first day jitters just thinking about it.

But our anxieties heighten when we know that child has differing needs. In my daughter’s case, autism. It adds an extra layer to the ever-probing question of, “Will they be okay?” Likely we’ve been asking that since birth, and most certainly since their diagnosis.

But this August, I felt a wave of reassurance wash over me; I think that’s because I know a few secrets to surviving back-to-school season. My daughter has taught me many things, and learning to find the silver lining is at the top of the list.

Here’s a few reasons why special needs parents can trade their worry for reassurance this year:

Our children will never be ready

Reassuring, right? The truth is, neither of us is ready for this change, but we never will be. There will never be a day when I feel like I’ve taught her enough—not at age 5, or 65. My child will always need something from me—I am her mother, after all—the keeper of her history, her most trusted witness. Have I done everything I can to prepare her? No, never. But the world will teach her too.

I know most parents want their kids to stay small forever, but autism changed all of that for me. The more independent she can become, the more at ease I will be. The beginning of the school year seems like the biggest step right now, but it’s not. It’s just something else to conquer. It’s another opportunity for our beautiful babies to release their color into the world.

Of course they will bruise as the road bends, but it’s our job to be there to Band-Aid their hurt and send them back out. No one gets through a broken world unbroken, but we must remember that resilience isn’t built in a bubble.

Ready or not, here they come.

The halls are lined with educators, also known as angels

On the first day, my daughter enthusiastically ran into school. It’s all fresh and new and fun, until the exhaustion sets in. By day three, she was in shambles and I had to carry her in kicking and screaming.

I arrived at the classroom out of breath and minutes away from a breakdown myself, and that’s when her teacher dismissed the other students, got on the floor and hugged my child into her chest. She looked me in the eye and said, “Go.” So I did, because in that moment I saw my daughter’s body release into the safety of someone who cared for her. A bridge of trust had been built, and since then, neither of us has looked back.

I don’t know many people selfless enough to love a child who isn’t their own, but I know a handful of them now, and I bow down. The only reason I can breathe and begin again as a woman is because for a few hours a day these teachers relieve me as a mother. They say “It takes a village,” and educators are the mighty among that. They are doing the hard, often thankless, work of molding children and they are doing it every day without complaint.

So, there’s no reason to fear our babies walking the halls. They are lined with guardian angels who see the whole child—not just the missing piece.

“No one gets through a broken world unbroken, but we must remember that resilience isn’t built in a bubble.”

The skills our children need to go out into the world are, well, out in the world

School is an opportunity to practice transitions. It’s a chance to meet both friends and foes. If I want my child to have a wider worldview—if I want her to be a giver and receiver of kindness—she must break bread with many. She also must have the opportunity to become a teacher—to educate her classmates on what inclusion and compassion truly is.

Going back to school means our children are growing and gaining, and isn’t that what we want? To watch them progress? To make it to that next milestone? Of course it’s bittersweet to count how many Christmases we have left with them in our homes, but if we’ve done things even remotely right, we’ll let them go and they’ll still willingly return. I just want to live long enough to see my baby change the world, but she can’t get there if I keep her in the cradle.

Starting school may seem like a step without us, but that’s never been true. We are built into our child’s bones. We will be with them on their first day, as they will be with us on our last.

Children are never alone with a mother’s love. That’s the most important supply they need this back to school season.


Stephanie Hanrahan was just your seemingly average housewife until she grew tired of pretending and took an axe to her white picket fence (also known as making her private journal public). Learn how she traded her pretending for a panty liner on Instagram, Facebook, and her blog Tinkles Her Pants, where she chronicles her journey as wife to a husband with chronic illness, mother to special needs kiddos, and a woman who often unravels then finds her footing again. Keep an eye out for more of Stephanie’s blogs here.

Images courtesy of Jennifer Baumann Photography.