How I Set Myself Up for Back-to-School Bliss

Being proactive helps columnist Sabrina Johnson set her Angel up for success

Sabrina L. Johnson avatar

by Sabrina L. Johnson |

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Returning to school after summer always has its challenges. This year is even more different because our 12-year-old Angel, Juliana, started middle school. This change will mean new routines, new therapists, a new teacher, and new classroom assistants.

But despite all the new things, we have had a great start to the school year. I believe that giving her teacher some helpful insights into Juliana’s behavior and motivators made a difference.

Please don’t say this

Juliana is going through puberty and her behavior can be unpredictable. Angels already have anxiety, and changes in their routine may serve as a trigger. Knowing this ahead of time gives the teacher time to develop some strategies. Juliana is using her iPad as her augmentative and alternative communication device. She can name certain emotions when things are not going well. However, when she is frustrated or uncertain, screaming is her first response.

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I let the teacher know that certain words now send Juliana into a tailspin. The word “no” is first on the list, followed by the phrase “nice hands.” These words were great directives some time ago. But now, Juliana hears them and associates them with doing something wrong. In some cases, she probably has, or we wouldn’t be using them. Instead, we de-escalate the action with other words. Of course, our new team has been privy to Juliana’s outbursts already. The teacher and staff have been staying away from the trigger words.

Getting Juliana’s emotions under control paves the way for her to focus and learn. Juliana is easily distracted, and it’s not easy to motivate her to work. Praise and hugs go a long way. The other things that motivate Juliana are beach balls and her favorite doll, Ladybug. I really emphasized Ladybug’s importance. Furthermore, Ladybug and two beach balls went to school during open house to make sure there would be motivators on hand for the first day.

‘Did I do that?’

By accident, I also did something new that is contributing to our back-to-school bliss. Although Juliana is trip trained, I usually have her wear a Pull-up while she adjusts to her new routine at school. This lessens extra laundry in case there are accidents. On the first day, however, I forgot about the Pull-up and sent her in underwear. She was dry the entire day and has made the target for every bathroom trip. That in itself pleases me. But it also means she is comfortable and there is no need to delay or manage her transition in this area. Having one less thing to coordinate is always a win.

No matter how hectic this time of year can be, we always have a simple back-to-school routine. There is so much that transpires at the beginning of a new school year. It can be easy to go with the flow and let discoveries happen through trial and error. But this year, being proactive was a better choice.

A few notes, insights, and even my underwear blunder have set Juliana up for a good start to middle school. We have had good reports all around. This is a huge contrast to some of the challenges we experienced this past school year. I know there will be some hiccups soon enough. But in the meantime, I’ll simply enjoy this little honeymoon for however long it may last.

Note: Angelman Syndrome News is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Angelman Syndrome News or its parent company, Bionews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to Angelman syndrome.


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