It started a few weeks ago. The new schedule. School. The School Schedule.
The first week wasn’t so bad. It was early, but the kids were excited, or curious, to begin a new school year.
Of course you met with the teacher and support staff ahead of time. Everyone shared notes, pictures, updates on the summer. The school nurse obtained any medications your child might need. You sent the special items that many students with disabilities need or that you borrowed for home use over the summer. And you filled out that enormous pack of papers that comes home with each student. It seems to grow as you fill it out.
Whew. The start of school is over.
Just as you start to think things might be going well, you begin to notice some things that are unsettling:
The tone of the notes from the teacher seems more tense.
Your child is grumpy when he returns from school.
Your child is really tired once he gets home and wants to go to bed before dinner (sometimes that doesn’t seem bad, but…).
You run into another Mom who mentions an incident at school that seems so unlike your child.
You learn your child has been irritable mid-morning and overly sleepy after lunch.
What in the world?!?
First, take a deep breath. We may be able to do just a little detective work to figure this out.
Here are a few questions:
What time did your child get out of bed?
When was breakfast?
When did the bus come?
When does the bus arrive at school?
When does class begin?
When is Lunch?
What time does the bus leave?
What time does your child arrive home?
Here’s another set of questions for the teacher (or for you to derive from the notes coming home):
When does the student begin to show signs of being off task?
What are those signs?
What happens after lunch?
Here is the theory.
No matter how hard you plan, your child may be going too long between meals. For the most part, students in K-8 should be eating every three to four hours. Never more than five hours between meals without a snack.
I cannot tell you how many IEP/Team meetings I have attended, both for my son and for others, during which meal and snack timing has been a hidden issue that I bring out to the open. Somehow it is the most basic things we overlook at times. Remembering to look at a child’s day as a whole, rather than “my part” and “their part” of the day is essential. It’s true we cannot cater to every child’s whims. We can, however, create accommodations to assist the schedule and a child’s biological needs to work together rather than against each other.
The trick is, when a child has disabilities, the time involved in getting ready for school and getting to school, can sometimes be the time between meals!
Here is an example from my own experiences:
Andy is up at 6:30.
Breakfast is at 6:45.
Dressed, teeth brushed, and ready to go by 7:15. (yes, we did most of that for him)
The bus is scheduled to arrive at 7:30. We’re ready.
The bus is late.
I call the “Bus barn.”
The bus arrives. It’s 8:15.
Andy arrives at school at 9:00
Lunch is at 11:15.
How long did he just go between breakfast and lunch? Almost 5 hours.
It’s no wonder he’s grumpy before lunch and sleepy after. His blood glucose has dropped way low because he is biologically hungry. When fed, the body tends to shut down and want to relax a bit before rebooting after being so low.
If your school has strict rules about eating in the classroom, this is a reasonable accommodation for your child. For some students, the time delay is due learning life skills: dressing, brushing teeth, packing the back pack. It can take an hour to accomplish those tasks – tasks that take children without disabilities minutes to do when they’re in the mood.
Remember. Starting the school year is hard. It takes tome to notice even the most simple things. Look for the simple, most normal things first. Hunger can be one of them! If all it takes is a 20 minute snack time to reduce behavior and create a positive learning environment, that’s a good thing!
What to send for snack is a blog for another day.
Let me know if this is helpful to you!