Back to School for Students with DLD

Posted by

Shaun Ziegenfusz | Manager, Research & Advocacy


As the school holidays come to a close, children and their families are getting ready to start the new school year. However, the thought of a new classroom with different rules, routines and expectations can be a daunting prospect. Especially for the 1 in 14 students with Developmental Language Disorder (DLD), which affects how they think about, understand and use language. Plan your child’s transition back to school with these 7 top tips.

1. Start a conversation

When you have difficulties understanding and using language, it can be challenging to bring up any worries or concerns. A child with DLD may behave differently, as they struggle to put their thoughts into words. Remember – behaviour is a form of communication. Start talking to your child about school. For example, what will happen on the first day, who they might meet and where to play at lunch time. Openly discuss any concerns they might have and problem solve them together. You may want to check if there is anything your child might like to share with their teacher on the first day.

2. Get them involved

Children with DLD can find it difficult to understand changes in routine from school holidays to term time. Involve your child in getting ready for school by counting down the days, purchasing stationery and organising their lunch box and drink bottle. As well as developing useful life skills, this provides an opportunity to model language, including nouns (i.e. bread, scissors), verbs (i.e. cut, wrap), adjectives (i.e. colour, shape) and sequences of events (i.e. first put on the cheese, then…).

3. Use visuals

Aim to give your child as much information about their daily routine as possible. Create a daily written or visual (picture) schedule outlining what they need to do for school, such as getting dressed, having breakfast and brushing their teeth. You can then cross these tasks off or move them to a ‘done’ list. Once you know the new school routine, try doing a weekly schedule to include specific activities, such as library, music or swimming lessons. If something changes, review the routine and discuss the difference. Visual supports can help a child with DLD to understand these new and changing routines.

4. Read a story

Social Stories are a short story written to support a child with DLD’s understanding of a specific situation, skill of concept. These can be a great way of describing what to do before or during school by using positive and reassuring language. There are a variety of apps available that can help you create your own social stories and you can find more information in our SALDA Handout – Social Stories.
There are also a huge range of first day of school books you can source online or from your local library. Goodreads have an extensive list of suggestions, while this video of ‘Pete the Cat – Rocking My School Shoes’ is a personal favourite

5. Have a trial run

It can be hard leaping into the unknown, so have a trial run without the pressure. Go for a drive to school and talk about what you see along the way. Use your new visuals to pack your school backpack, which is filled with wonderful new adjectives and nouns (e.g. green hat, square lunchbox, cold water bottle). Practice opening and closing lunch containers or putting on shoes and socks to help with your child’s confidence and independence at school.

6. Discuss school expectations & safety

Schools will often have values or expectations (available on their website) that include unfamiliar vocabulary for your child. For example, respectful, determined and courteous. Use words and concepts familiar to your child to discuss what these ‘bigger’ words mean. Try brainstorming or role-playing situations together to make these concepts more meaningful. Often schools will include ‘safety’ as a key value or expectations. Take the time to discuss how to stay safe at school. Let your child know who they can speak to if they feel unsafe at school. The Daniel Morcombe Foundation have a variety of resources that can be helpful at home or school

7. Talk with your team

Successful planning can help the year go smoothly, particularly if you collaborate with your child’s support team. Children with DLD often need support in a variety of areas, such as literacy, numeracy, attention, social skills and behaviour, which means working with a range of people. Provide a brief overview of your child for any new teachers or support officers. You may even like to update this each year. Coordinate with your child’s teacher to set up a communication book or regular emails between home and school. Write important messages about your child that can assist the teacher (e.g. a bad night’s sleep or unsettled morning before school). The teacher can then send messages or interesting activities that happened during the day. This can be useful ‘insider’ information to guide after school conversations about what they did during the day.

Comment below with your own tips for supporting children with DLD returning to school. Wishing everyone a great start to the school year!

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