Helping Special Needs Children Navigate Back-to-School Time
8 min · Education
July 25, 2023

Helping Special Needs Children Navigate Back-to-School Time

School season is always a hassle in every household. Getting used to the change of routines could be overwhelming, especially for a special needs child.

But today, we are to deal with issues other than those that come naturally with the school season.

Today, we have to live with and adjust to the fact that there is an ongoing pandemic across the globe.

This “new normal” could potentially have various impacts on your child, from both physical and mental health points.

Therefore, it is very important that parents and caregivers take necessary precautions to keep their children safe.

We have gathered some information that could help you in safely educating your child about what COVID-19 is and how to take measures to protect them from the pandemic.

Talking to Your Special Needs Child About COVID-19

What is going on around the world may be confusing for a special needs child. They may not know what is going on.

On top of that, they may not be able to express their fears and confusion as well as frustrations about the situation.

When you try to explain coronavirus to your child, make sure that you are using a language simple to understand.

Your sentences must be clear and direct to avoid confusion. Try to assure your child that there are things to do and tools available to stay healthy.

Once you explain that coronavirus can make people sick, you can tell your child that certain things in daily life will change.

Set some important rules for your child about hygiene and make sure that your child understands these.

Tell them they have to wash their hands thoroughly and it is not a good idea to touch their face. Explain why people are wearing a mask to cover their faces in public places.

Provide simple and small information at a time. Don’t go into detail and overwhelm your child. Wait and give them time to ask questions.

Practicing Wearing a Mask

Getting used to wearing a mask could be a daunting task. But with a couple of tricks, you will be able to have your child wear a mask safely.

  • Model wearing masks. Children learn faster when they have a role model. If they see you or others wearing a mask, they will be able to understand the concept and feel more comfortable in the mask.

  • You can wear the mask yourself, or video call someone your child knows and have them wear the mask together. You can also look at photos of someone your child looks up to, like a celebrity wearing a mask.

  • Make sure that your child wears the mask to cover their mouth and nose. Hold the mask up to their face first. Then try to have them practice wearing it with one loop over the ear. Then practice wearing it over both ears.

  • Once your child masters those, make sure they wear the mask covering their chin, mouth, and nose. When they can cover these individual spots, have them cover both their mouth and nose in the proper position.

  • Show proper use. Don’t touch the cloth and only handle the ear loops of the mask.

  • Have your child wear the mask for a few seconds at first. Go slowly. Build up the time. Turn seconds into a couple of minutes.

  • Remind your child that they need to wash their hands if they touch the cloth of the mask.

  • Make sure that your child knows when they should put on the masks. You can determine a time using a timer, or have a signal when they can take off the mask and take a break. Don’t forget to use positive reinforcement along the way.

  • It is important to learn how to properly take on and off the mask. Make sure that your child knows not to touch the cloth while taking it off.

  • You can also get your child masks that have fun patterns so that they are more appealing to the child. You could also get matching masks for the whole family so that the child can look forward to it as an activity.

Teaching Your Child How to Wash Their Hands

In addition to wearing a mask, washing hands is the most effective way of protecting your child from being infected with the virus. Here are a couple of ways to teach them how to wash their hands:

  • Make sure that your child knows that washing hands is a big deal.

  • There are five simple steps for proper hand washing. Teach them that they need to wet, lather, scrub, rinse, and dry their hands.

  • The proper protocol for washing hands is scrubbing them with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. You can create a concept so that your child can understand how long that is. For example, singing their favorite song or jingle can help them understand that.

  • You can teach them that they need to go through the “Happy Birthday” song twice to complete this step.

  • Teach your child when to wash their hands. We have already mentioned that they need to wash their hands properly if they have touched the cloth of their mask. Help them understand that they need to wash their hands after playing outside, coughing, blowing their nose, before and after meals, using the restroom, and when they enter the home or school.

  • After teaching these concepts, regularly remind them how to wash their hands and reinforce what they have learned.

Teaching Your Child How to Use Tissue Papers

Teaching your child how to properly cough and sneeze during a pandemic is important to protect them from getting affected. Using tissue paper for these needs could help prevent unwanted exposure both for your child and others around them.

  • You can practice use of tissues through play-acting. Make a little skit for your child that shows them an effective way to learn the proper use of a tissue.

  • Teach your child to use tissue paper when they need to sneeze and dispose of the paper properly.

  • Practice coughing into your child’s elbow if there is no time to get a tissue paper.

  • Using tissue paper is not enough; so make sure that your child knows to back away from other children before they sneeze or blow their nose.

  • Make sure that your child has a packet of tissue papers at all times and encourage them to use it, reinforcing constantly.

  • If your child has a tendency to itch or scratch their face, teach them to cover their hands with tissue before itching, reducing the risk.

Teaching Your Child the Importance of Social Distancing

Social distancing is one of the most effective ways to protect against coronavirus. So learning to properly distance yourself from others is really important. There are a couple of ways to teach your child social distancing.

  • Children with autism can grasp concrete concepts more easily. You can use different objects around the house or your child’s favorite toys to teach them what six feet long looks like.

  • If there is someone at home who is six feet tall, you can have them lay on the floor and have your child walk the length of their body. Your child could count their steps to get a clearer idea on what a safe distance looks like.

  • Before school, take your child outside and talk about what recess and play will look like at school. Tell them keeping some distance from other people is a good idea even when you are outside.

  • You can practice the distance they have learned at home by asking simple questions. When you are sitting down on the carpet, ask your child which spot in the living room looks closest to six feet away.

Educate Your Child About the Frequently Touched Surfaces

  • Encourage your child to think about which surfaces people touch the most frequently. You can turn this into a game, challenging them to find the top 10 most touched surfaces at home so that they can get a better understanding.

  • You can assign your child some cleaning chores around the house. This could be a part of their daily assignment, helping them become more aware of commonly touched surfaces.

  • Reinforce and remind your child about these surfaces at home before school, so that they will look out for high-touch surfaces at school, too.

Using Social Stories to Build New Habits

social stories about the pandemic otsimo

Social stories are a great tool already in use with special needs children. You can utilize this technique to build new habits that will be beneficial at school in terms of keeping your child safe from the virus.

Social stories are stories where children can learn what happens in some situations. These explain what children could and should do in those situations. Along with pictures and visuals, they can help your child learn the steps of social distancing, wearing a mask, or washing hands.

With back-to-school coming, Otsimo Special Education has introduced a new category for preparation of the school season. In our app, you can also find relevant social stories on how to wear masks properly as well as social distancing.

Using fun tools with visuals and images can help immensely in helping your child grasp the importance of proper use of masks, hand washing, social distancing, and overall protecting themselves from the virus and preventing the spread of it.

Talk to A Professional

Coronavirus has changed our lives and routines. Special needs children need a certain level of routine and stable life. Adjusting to new routines and maybe a more careful life could be challenging for parents and caregivers.

We understand your struggles and are here for you. There are lots of informative materials online and tools you can use to overcome these obstacles and stress. But if you feel like you are overwhelmed, consult a professional.

Your pediatrician will be able to help you with any of your concerns about your child’s wellbeing and how to cope with the mental stress that came with these trying times. Getting a handle on things before school could alleviate a portion of your and your child’s stress.

You can also consult your child’s teachers about what is the plan for the new school year. They may provide you with tips and tricks, and tell you about the precautions they will be taking. They could go over the protocol for back to school after lockdown to help you adjust.

Where you live, the schools might not be opening. In this case, continuing special education at home could be the only option. There are various proven techniques and tools to boost your child’s education at home. You can check out our blog about special education at home.


This article is examined by Clinical Child Psychologist and Ph. D. Researcher Kevser Çakmak, and produced by Otsimo Editorial Team.

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This post does not provide medical advice. See Additional Information.