Back to school can be very different for kids with special needs as guest blogger Ellen Stumbo illustrates in this post.

Guest blogger Ellen Stumbo’s three girls went to school this fall. Each daughter responded differently to the experience, partly because of their personalities, partly because of their ages, and partly because back to school is different for kids with special needs. In today’s post Ellen writes about her thoughts about her girls’ first day of school and their untapped potential.

When Back to School Is Different for Kids with Special Needs

Another school year greets our family. It is the first time all my girls will be in school. They have clean, brand new backpacks, and their school supplies are neatly organized. They stand by the front door ready for me to snap a picture.


Ellie is ready to conquer the world. The smile she wears and the hop in her step are evidence of her self-confidence. I see that, even in her picture.


Nina smiles, but I see the nervous way in which she holds on to her walker. Her knees seem a little unstable today. She has been to her school before. She has met her teacher, her aides and every single therapist that will work with her. We spent time in her classroom making sure that she could get around in her walker or wheelchair. She has a cute special chair for extra support when sitting at the table, and one for sitting on the floor. We made sure that the right adaptive equipment was available so she could use the bathroom as independently as possible. Yet, her picture reveals that despite all the help she will get, the challenges that her body and mind will face at school because of Cerebral Palsy are scary when you are only five years old.


Nichole refuses to have her picture taken. She is angry. Angry that we have changed her routine. She does not want to go to school and demands to go inside the house again.  She holds on to her cup of milk, her bowl of crackers, and the cover of one of her favorite shows while she cries in protest as we buckle her in the car. I wish she had the words to tell me how she feels. Even more than that, it makes me sad to think that she will not be able to tell me about her day when she returns home. If I could change one thing about how Down syndrome affects Nichole, it would be her speech.


My husband Andy and I take the girls to school. As we walk out the door, I want to cry. I know many moms cry too, I get that. But this is different. Two of my children have special needs. The complexities of their schooling careers are hard even for me to understand at times. I hold on to their potential, and to the fact that just like their big sister, my 2 “special” children also will shine.

What Were Your First-Day-of-School Thoughts?

Were your feelings similar to Ellen’s on the first day of school a few weeks ago? What potential are you holding on to regarding your children? Leave a comment if you need to vent or are encouraged about the year.

Do you like what you see at You can receive more great content by subscribing to the quarterly Different Dream newsletter and signing up for the daily RSS feed delivered to your email inbox. You can sign up for the first in the pop up box and the second at the bottom of this page.