Tips for starting school

Starting a new school can be daunting for any child (and parent!) but it can bring a whole new set of hurdles when your child has limb difference.

It is important to speak to your children as a family before they start school, whether it’s a new school, or they are returning after amputation. Here are some top tips you may find helpful:

  • Speak to your teachers
  • Make sure you know who and where you can go if you have a problem
  • Some children have a time-out card in case they have a problem or to leave class early to avoid the rush
  • If you are having a problem with your limb tell a teacher or staff member
  • Make sure you know where toilets and changing rooms are. Is there a disabled toilet that you can use?
  • Is there anything put in place to make you day easier – like a school lift?
  • Communicate with your teacher if you are in pain or uncomfortable, you don’t have to do something that is going to hurt you or embarrass you. Explain why you can’t do something 
  • Speak to your parents and school if anyone is unkind – sometimes other children will just be curious. It’s up to you how much you disclose
  • Ask your parents to help you manage your own prosthesis, crutches or wheelchair
  • Have a limb care bag at school, you can leave one there, so you never forget it
  • Remember that most people around you want to help, but you have to tell them what you need and how you feel about things.

Choosing the right school: If you have choice of schools you should read up about them, ask parents who already have children at the school and visit them.

Assume good intentions: Your child’s school will want to do their best to help – assume they have good intentions and work with them. 

Read up on policy: Perhaps in advance of meeting members of staff, find out about the school’s policies on areas like bullying and attendance. Think about whether you want to ask for exceptions to be made (e.g. excluding recurring hospital appointments from being counted as non-attendances). You can look for these on the school’s website or in the handbook or call to ask about them.

Get specific needs in writing: If your child has any particular needs (e.g. recurring hospital appointments, the need to sit in a chair rather than on the floor) ask your consultant to write a letter outlining them. You can provide the school with a copy for their records, which will not only help your child get their needs met, but can also help reduce the need for repeat requests.

Some things you may wish to speak to your child’s school about:

Amputation information –  How did the amputation occur?  How is your child coping since the amputation? What medical and health professionals are working with your child and your family?

School attendance –  Will it be full or part-time?  If it is part-time when do you expect schooling will become full-time?

Rests and breaks –  Will your child require any additional rest periods during school hours?  How will the school monitor and manage rest periods?

School modifications – Does the school need to make any modifications to accommodate your child’s accessibility and equipment needs (eg. wheelchair, crutches, prosthetic limb)? Are the classrooms and toilets accessible? Are there steps, stairs or distances in parts of the school that may affect your child’s ability to access school grounds?

Pain management –  Does your child take any pain medication and, if so, what dosage? How often do medications need to be administered and how will this occur during school hours?  Discuss medication consent procedures with your child’s school.

Assistance – Will your child require assistance moving from one classroom to another?  Does your child need assistance carrying bags, books or technology? Does your child require assistance with eating? Does your child require assistance with toileting?  What are the assistance procedures need to be put in place?

Transport –  If your child has limited mobility, are there special school drop-off and pick-up arrangement available?

Absences and curriculum – How will your child’s absence from school (or other matters related to their limb difference) affect their learning, marks and completion of certain subjects?  If necessary, what curriculum modifications can the school offer both now and into the future?

Communicating with peers –  How would you like your child to discuss their limb difference with other students or the wider school community?  How can you and the school assist students to positively understand your child’s amputation and limb difference?

Plan for transitions: The transition from primary to secondary school can be hard. Secondary school often involves a lot more walking between classrooms or buildings, and your child may be scared about leaving their primary school friends. Talk to the school about how you can support this transition together. If they’re remaining under the same authority, can the school ensure one or two of your child’s friends are placed in the same class? Can the new school try to ensure that all your child’s classes are on the ground floor?

Talk to the school: If possible, meet relevant people within the school in advance of your child starting, to explain your child’s condition and needs. You might find it helpful to bring photos of your child’s limb and/or equipment to show at the meeting. If you do so, you might choose not to leave the photos with the school, for privacy reasons.

Agree on expectations in advance: Ask to meet with relevant members of staff (e.g. your child’s form teacher, headteacher, P.E. teacher, school nurse), ideally before school starts. Explain what your child needs and how the school can help, but also what your child is capable of/areas they do not need extra help. You might also ask to take a walk around the school buildings to check for practical challenges that need to be planned for – for example, is there a private space where your child can change prostheses (if that’s their preference)? Is there somewhere they can easily store spare limbs and other equipment? The advisory teaching service in your area might be able to accompany you on a walk-around. 

Ask about funding for equipment: If your child needs any extra equipment at school (e.g. a specialized ‘wombat’ chair for posture), ask whether the school has a fund to cover such things. 

Check in about SEN: If your child receives any extra help for Special Educational Needs (SEN), make sure you’re checking in with the SEN teacher to ensure their needs are being met.

Request flexibility: Let the school know that your child is the best person to explain their needs and ask that the school makes any reasonable accommodations that your child requests as they arise. These might include being allowed to sit or stand, using a chair rather than sitting on the floor, taking short breaks during particular activities, etc. Teach your child that it’s up to them to be their own advocate and state their needs – and to state when they don’t need any extra help.

Ask about P.E. adaptations: There are lots of ways P.E. activities might be adapted to suit your child and enable them to participate. e.g. a prosthetic limb can be wrapped in foam during contact sports so it doesn’t get damaged or injure anyone else (check with your limb centre about how to do this safely). You might also ask about the school offering sessions of disability sports to all the students, e.g. Wheelchair Rugby will often come out to run a session or how about sitting volleyball?

Build confidence: Starting school for the first time (or starting at a new school) can be hard, as your child will be meeting lots of new children who are not used to their limb difference and might stare or ask questions. You won’t be able to be there every time, so confidence building is key. Talk to your child about what makes them confident (e.g. wearing their limb a certain way, learning about inspirational limb different people, being in their group of friends, taking part in particular activities) and see what you can do to help. Sometimes it can help to remind your child that when other children stare it’s because they’re still learning about the world. It’s not personal to them or because children are trying to be mean. Talking to a counsellor or therapy might also help them build confidence.

Make a plan for dealing with comments: Talk to your child about how comments might make them feel and what kind of response they can give. Ignoring it? Saying something? It might help to come up with easy scripts to respond to stares or comments – this could involve explaining their condition. Let them know they don’t owe anyone an explanation but they’re free to give one if they want. 

Get involved: If you can, take part in parents’ committees so that you have a say in school events and activities. It’s a great way of advocating for your child and influencing policy. For example, if you help to plan sports day, you can make sure there are disability-inclusive sports on offer.

Ask about an assembly: If your child wants, ask about the possibility of an assembly or other event to talk about issues of bullying/staring. This doesn’t have to be focused on your child or on limb difference (your child might even prefer that it isn’t); it can be about bullying in general or – on a positive note – about how everyone is different and our differences make us. Suggest giving a presentation about your child’s condition, including their prostheses/wheelchair, their needs and capabilities, and anything else you and your child think is relevant. Better understanding can reduce staring or excessive questioning. Your child might like to give the presentation themselves, but if they’re too young or they don’t want to, you could do it, or ask someone from the advisory teaching service or your limb centre. Alternatively, ask the head teacher to send round a letter/email before term starts.  

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