Best Way to Start the Day for Kids with Autism, ADHD, and Other Special Needs

This method of greeting each student every single morning can be a critical part of a student’s school experience. Especially students with behavioral problems or special needs.  

Before I became a psychologist I was a teacher …

I had the good fortune to experience one of my student teaching classes with Mrs. Jordan, who taught 5th grade at the time. One thing that immediately stood out and stuck with me was her routine of greeting each student at the door of her classroom every single morning. The bell would ring, and as students filtered into the building she would take her place at the door, ready with a smile and a handshake, hug, or high five for every student that entered. She taught me that the way to set a positive and productive tone for the day was to connect with each student and let them know she saw them and cared for them. When I took over teaching her class I began implementing this routine, and it stuck with me as I moved on to teaching in my own classroom.

This one routine stayed with me wherever I went …

I went on to teach in regular and special education classrooms, all different ages, and this one routine stayed with me wherever I went. I started the day by individually greeting and connecting with EVERY student:

The ones who greeted me with eager smiles, and the ones who were tired and grumpy.

The ones who were compliant and followed every instruction, and the ones who had blown up and thrown things the day prior.

The ones who were loud and talked too much and the ones that were shy and didn’t talk at all.

The ones whose parents were involved, and the ones whose parents I never met.

The ones who wrote me cards and notes with happy faces and rainbows, and the ones who cursed at me and tore up the notes on my desk.

The ones who greeted me back, and the ones who didn’t.

All of them.

Here’s why it works …

Each day was a fresh start and a new opportunity to connect and understand each other better. That brief moment at the door each morning was critical. It was a moment for each child, especially those with challenges, to be seen, heard, and engaged in a positive way. It was an opportunity to connect one-on-one to send the message that:
“Today is a fresh start and I still care about you.”

“I know you’re having a hard time and I see you trying.”

“We might not always get along but I’m here for you.”

“I know you don’t want to be here, but I’m glad you are.”

Do this instead of that last minute task …

Yes, the small window of time right before the bell rings can be rushed, and there are always many things teachers need to get done at the last minute. However, I can assure you that being at the door before students arrive, ready to greet and connect with them, will yield far better results than whatever last minute tasks we might normally do in the office or at our desk. Taking five minutes to start the day on the right foot will save time and energy throughout the day because there will be fewer behavior issues to tackle. It will also improve student success and help everyone learn better. I came to view those few minutes at the door each morning as one of the best investments of time and energy I could make as a teacher, and I think you will find the same.

I can’t emphasize this enough …

It is a tremendous act of courage for many students with challenges to show up to school each day. They often feel like failures, they are embarrassed, they feel lonely, and they know that there is a high likelihood they will somehow screw up again today. Students with ADHD, autism, and other emotional and behavioral disorders often need to have fresh starts, and so do those of us working with them. We need to remind kids (and ourselves) that what happened before is in the past, and this moment is a new opportunity to begin again. As adults, it is our responsibility to recognize their courage, extend a hand, and let them know they are not alone and we will keep trying together.

Here’s another helpful article for the classroom Creating Supportive Classroom Environments for Student’s with Special Needs 

What’s working for you?

Do you have a specific routine you use to connect with each of your students at the start of the school day? I’d love to hear about it in the comments below!

What You Should Do Next:

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