Back to School with Special Needs; An Interview with CARD Founder, Dr. Doreen Granpeesheh

By Nora Tarte
Kirkman Group, Inc.

The abrupt change in schedule as well as the extra stimuli children face in a school environment can bring out some of their worst behaviors, and possibly cause regression, making back to school a challenging time for both parents and children with special needs. Learning how to address these behaviors before school starts can be a valuable tool for any parent. Dr. Doreen Granpeesheh from the Center for Autism and Related Disorders, Inc. (CARD) discusses some of the challenges children with special needs face when going back to school, as well as addresses what parents and teachers can do to make the transition a smooth one.

What are some of the main challenges kids with special needs face when they go back to school?

Depending on the child’s level of functioning, he or she will face many additional challenges at school when compared to a typically developing child. In addition to having to work harder in areas of deficit (i.e. language, social skills, executive functioning, motor skills, academic skills, adaptive skills, cognition), these students face additional challenges including but not limited to maladaptive behaviors, stereotypy, sensory processing difficulties and anxiety. Further causing obstacles can be school staff and students that misunderstand the child’s diagnosis and other stigmas that can be attached to an autism diagnosis. When considering the severity of the challenges a child with special needs faces, it is important for parents and school staff to give the child the necessary supports and resources that he or she needs to overcome these challenges.

What can parents do to help their children adjust to the new schedule and environment school offers?

Parents can assist in priming their child for the new schedule and classroom environment before the child transitions into the new classroom and learning environment. The goal is for the child to learn in the classroom environment, not to simply survive. In order to meet this goal the parent should focus on generalization. Simply put, generalization is when you teach a skill one way; the child can use it another way or in another place with other stimuli, in other locations and with different people. The ideal would be for the parents to practice a collection of skills at home and for them to generalize immediately in the classroom environment. The three areas that should be practiced include stimulus generalization (learning to respond to various types of instructions), response generalization (learning to give varied types of responses) and generalized reinforcers (responding to varied reinforcers or more natural reinforcers that occur in the classroom).

Can you tell me about the biomedical aspect?

At CARD, we believe treatment can only be successful if the child is treated as a whole. Therefore, we insist that our families begin with a complete check up of the child so that we can help identify appropriate dietary interventions, necessary supplements and medical interventions to make the child stabilize and feel better. My belief is that a child who feels good will sleep better, will receive more nutrition for brain growth and development and will therefore learn better.

How can supplements help children with special needs who are headed back to school?

Supplements can play an important role in the child’s ability to sleep, to pay attention, to focus, to memorize things and in general, to feel well enough to function appropriately in school. For example, many of our children find melatonin very helpful to their sleep and of course, with better sleep, they function much better overall. Another example would be the Essential Fatty Acids. We find many of our children showing improved attention and memory when taking EFA’s. It is essential for parents to identify which supplements are appropriate for their child because no two children are the same.

Are there any resources (at school or outside of school) parents should know about?

The Institute for Behavioral Training provides cutting edge teacher and parent modules that are specifically designed to address a successful transition to school. These modules are available at this website: At CARD, we try to give our families all the resources they need to provide high quality behavioral programing for their children. Our SKILLS program is an online tool that allows families and teachers to assess and design a CARD model program at very minimal cost. SKILLS can be found at For families who do not have time to learn ABA techniques and implement them on their own, we recommend the Autism Live web based daily shows ( and for families who are doubtful of the benefits of the CARD ABA program, we recommend a video series called Mission Possible, found at Many similar resources are listed on our website:

Do you have any additional tips or tricks parents can utilize to make the transition back to school a smooth one?

Help ensure the child’s teacher has received appropriate training on autism. This will facilitate a smooth transition and also will foster a warm and welcoming environment. Parents should also help schedule meetings between current providers and the new school staff to discuss the child’s unique needs, IEP [Individualized Education Program], behavior support plan and current levels of functioning. Coordinate with all providers so that the team working with the child functions as a cohesive group and interacts with each other.