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School Adaptations

Requesting adaptations in a classroom is so important for a child who needs it.  For children who have been adopted requesting special adaptations can be vital to make sure that their learning environment is both safe and productive.

Sensory Stimulation: For children who may have additional sensory needs finding simple adaptations can make all the difference when asking a child to sit in a chair most of the day.

  • For active legs, try placing an elastic band on their chair. They can push down on the elastic band while learning.  Keeping their legs active, while also getting deep pressure in the leg muscles may allow them to focus more successfully during class time.  Chair Elastic Band Example

  • Fidgets can sometimes be distracting. Finding the right fidget for your child that does not turn into a distraction is important.  The right fidget toy can aid your child in focusing during class time. The fidget toy might also lower anxiety.

  • A weighted blanket on your child’s lap or wearing a weighted vest during different points during the day can increase attention span. They can also decrease possible social and classroom anxiety.

  • Visual timers can help children who struggle with transitions. These little desk timers can demonstrate time left until the next transition, allowing your child to feel safe and in control.  Visual Timer Example

  • Sensory corners can be a great place for your child to relax and recharge if there is too much sensory stimulation in the classroom. We know that teachers have limited budgets but you can offer to help your teacher create one for their classroom.  You can then transfer it to the next classroom as your child moves through elementary school.  Sensory Corner Example

  • Having hard candy for your child to suck on can help with any oral sensory needs. For children who continually put things in their mouths, this can help lessen this behavior.

English as a Second Language: For a lot of children who come home at an older age, transitioning into going to school where English is not their primary language can be difficult.  Many schools have ESL classrooms, but it is still good to prepare your child and school for their individual needs.

  • Making things visual can help children learning a new language catch on faster. When things are said verbally, it can sometimes be too fast for an ESL student.  Also remind teachers to have things in written format as much as possible.  Even classroom instructions can be missed if said very fast orally.  For a child with a history of trauma, asking for a teacher to repeat can be difficult for the child.

  • Cultural references can be hard for kids who have not been in the United States very long. Keep an eye out for different cultural references in vocabulary or classroom curriculum.  You may need to find videos and pictures to help them to understand topics covered in class.

  • Ask teachers for lessons if possible ahead of time. That will allow you to find pictures, videos, or other helpful teaching references so your child can feel like they are keeping at pace with their peers.

  • If possible put up word and picture items around the classroom and in your child’s cubby or locker. Even simple things like asking to go to the restroom can be very scary for children who might not be confident English speakers.  Possibly having a card to present to the teacher can make communicating safer for the child.

At the beginning focusing on making the child feel safe is more important than having them be forced to learn the language.  They will pick up language faster than you think, as they are immersed in it every day.  Try to remember what it was like navigating in your child’s birth culture.  The frustrations you felt in trying to communicate without knowing the language may be what your child is experiencing.  You only had to do this for possibly a few weeks.  Your child is having to do this for months as they learn the language.  Your child may act out solely because of language barrier frustrations at school.  Empathize with your child and be okay with silent time after school.  Their brain might be tired of having to translate all day long.

As you and your child navigate what their classroom needs may be, remember that being different is never easy.  Whether that maybe your child is the oldest in their class due to lack of education in their birth country, needing to attend special education classes, or just small classroom adaptations.  Remind yourself to stop and try to understand how your child might be feeling.  Meeting your child emotionally before moving into logistical solutions for school can create a strong bond between you both, and can empower your child to feel confident when stepping into a classroom.


Ford-Lanza, A. (2017).  10 Tools For a Sensory Informed Classroom. Harkla

Yigzaw, A. (2012). Impact of L1 use in L2 English writing classesEthiopian Journal of Education and Sciences, 8(1), 11-27.

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