Atlanta, GA,
09:32 AM

Tips for Returning to School When You or Someone You Love Has a Disability

Kelsey Shearman, MA, Shepherd Center’s academic coordinator, provides helpful tips for ensuring students with disabilities can have a smooth transition back to the classroom.

When you’re a grown-up helping a student with a disability return to school:


Start planning as early as possible. 

Accommodations are essential for students’ success when returning to school, but it can take some time to determine what is appropriate. It can also take time to work through the school system to get accommodations approved and implemented, so try to get started as soon as you know what accommodations are recommended and feasible.

Know the options. 

Familiarizing yourself with how accommodations can be provided to help you advocate for your student. An Individualized Education Plan (IEP) and a 504 plan are formal plans to help students that are developed by families and schools together. An IEP is a plan created for a child’s special education experience at school. This can include modifications to instruction and the learning environment. A 504 Plan helps plan for a child’s access to learning at school and how the school will provide support and remove barriers for a student with a disability. This can include accommodations to account for modifications to absence and makeup work policies or concerning the student's personal care, like bowel and bladder programs. These examples are not an exhaustive list, and you can find more information in this helpful overview from Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta. 

Helpful hint: These plans are NOT set in stone! If you find you need something different than what is in your plan, you can change it.


When you’re returning to school after injury or illness:


When in doubt…ask!

This one is big! Advocating for yourself is important in returning to school and for life. First, ask for a school tour so you can find accessible ways for you to get to class before school starts. Give your school counselor access to one of your therapists so they can understand more about your disability. If you have a 504 or IEP that isn’t working the way you need it to, talk to your counselor at school, and elevate it beyond that if you need to. IEPs and 504s can be changed, but you have to speak up to make that happen.

Don’t let personal care needs impact social time at school.

Being with friends is a big part of returning to school, and it’s essential for social development and fun! Make sure your personal care time for things like catheters does not take up time in recess or lunch. If you need extra time for these things, remember to address them during planning for your accommodations.


A Note for Teachers and Staff:

Asking what the student needs or wants to facilitate better learning can help you understand their needs. Some students may be fine with talking about their needs in front of others, and some will want to be addressed privately. Students may need preferential seating in the front for ease of access or the back to not disturb others during weight shifts. You can also ask for a contact for your students’ therapy team for more information. The key thing to remember here is to advocate and ask!


About Shepherd Center

Shepherd Center provides world-class clinical care, research, and family support for people experiencing the most complex conditions, including spinal cord and brain injuries, multi-trauma, traumatic amputations, stroke, multiple sclerosis, and pain. An elite center recognized as both Spinal Cord Injury and Traumatic Brain Injury Model Systems, Shepherd Center is ranked by U.S. News as one of the nation’s top hospitals for rehabilitation. Shepherd Center treats thousands of patients annually with unmatched expertise and unwavering compassion to help them begin again.