attending graduation with special needs child

Tips For Attending a Graduation With a Special Needs Child


Let’s talk about graduation because it’s that time of year when we have lots of graduations going on. This information is really relevant at any time, but I know we have a lot of graduation ceremonies coming up. We talk about a lot of specific events, but the same strategies work for many different kinds of events—you just have to tease out what particular things will be challenging for which events.


1. Where’s the venue?


I have had times when I’ve had to take special needs kids to graduation events. These events pose a lot of challenges! Some graduation ceremonies are outdoors and some are indoors, so you may have lots of different types of weather and temperatures to deal with. I’ve been at graduations where I’ve been freezing, and I’ve been at graduations where I’ve been boiling. This is something to be mindful about if the graduation is outside, which many commencement ceremonies are. 


2. It will be crowded.



Another challenge is that these events are usually extremely crowded. Generally speaking our high schools here in Texas are huge, and they have very large graduating classes. This means you will be at that ceremony for what will feel like umpteen hours! I have sat for two and a half to three hours at a commencement ceremony, waiting for a particular name to be called to go up and receive their diploma. 


3. Time it right.


If you have kids who have difficulty with the intensity of these types of environments, plan on arriving at a time when you don’t have to stay the whole time. The graduates will be called in alphabetical order, so you can figure out about what time you need to be there to see your friends or family called up. I hope you all have people with a last name starting with “A!” But if your people have names starting with “Z,” plan to arrive later. You can usually get a schedule for the commencement, so you know what activities will be going on when and you can plan accordingly.


4. Divide and conquer.




Cellphones make it easy for families to divide and conquer. One family member can be inside saving spots and giving updates about what letter they’re on, while the other stays with the kids until it’s time to go in. Parking may be an issue if you go later, but you can always take an Uber or arrange something else. That may be frustrating, but even so it would be worse to have to sit there for several hours and have your kiddo have a meltdown, and you might even end up missing that special moment. 


5. Choose the right seat.



Seating is also critical. Save a section, or have a family member save a section, with a seat that’s on the end so you can exit if you need to. You don’t want to end up stuck in the middle or far from where you need to go if you need to get out to walk around. Getting up and walking around can be very helpful during these events. It can be very helpful to take a break for awhile, and then come back to your seat. 


6. Be prepared!



My other trick is to bring a bag of novel toys and novel activities. Your kids can entertain themselves with an iPad or iPhones, or with a coloring book, or play with other toys. Avoid bringing noisy toys because you don’t want to draw attention to yourself. If you can, take your kiddo to the commencement venue beforehand, and talk about what’s going to happen. Bring water and snacks. Prepare for whatever may come along! And don’t forget—make sure you know where the restroom is!


7. Use technology.


If you end up thinking that the event is just too intimidating, there’s always Facetime! You can watch the ceremony at home from your iPad or on a screen. We have so much technology today that you don’t have to see it live to see it. Or, perhaps someone can record the event for you to watch later. 

It’s exciting to go to these events and see people move into their future! I hope you enjoy them! If you have specific questions about your kiddo, talk to your therapist. They can give you some really good insights!

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