It’s that time of year again; time to go back to school. While many children are excited about returning to school, children with autism often experience a great deal of stress and anxiety during this time of year. Even if your child is going to the same school building they attended the previous year, this still means change for your child as there will most likely be new children, there may be a new teacher, and possibly a new classroom. Because these things can cause children with autism to have some major melt downs at the beginning of the school year, this article will outline five tips to help make this transition go more smoothly for you and your child.
1. Get Prepared
A few weeks before school starts, talk to your child about the coming end to the summer routine. Start talking about how things will change when they go back to school. Talk about what things will change for them such as will they have a new babysitter, will they ride the bus etc. Try to help them understand that their daily routine will be different soon and then explain to them how.
2. Meet with Team Members
It may be important for you to meet with the members of your child’s team. This includes the principal, therapists, teachers, assistant teachers etc. Doing so will give you an opportunity to share with them your child’s strengths as well as their weaknesses. It will also give you a chance to give them some tips on how to help your child work through difficult moments that may happen during the school day. You can also share or revisit the IEP so that everyone is familiar with your child’s goals. This will also give the school staff a chance to ask you any questions they may have. This meeting can be beneficial for everyone involved.
3. Take Your Child to Visit the School Building and the Classroom
A couple weeks before school starts, if at all possible, take the child to visit the school building and the classroom. It’s ideal if the new teacher will agree to meet you there so your child gets to see him/her ahead of time. It may also be helpful for your child to meet the principal and other office staff as well as any other important staff in the building. You can also take a picture of these staff members to use in your social story. Even if your child is not changing school buildings this is often helpful so that they know what to expect and can adjust to the change in classroom teachers or just a change in routine.
4. Use Social Stories
Social Stories TM were developed by Carol Gray of the Gray Center for Social Learning and Understanding in Grand Rapids, Michigan. A social story is a short simple story, often with pictures, that talks about an event or situation. You can write your own social story or use one that someone else has already written, but it is always good to personalize the story so your child feels like it applies to them. You can use your child’s name, the name of their new teacher or teachers, and/or the name of their school as well. Because most children with autism are visual learners, a social story will often help ease their anxiety. For more information about social stories.
5. Use a Visual Schedule
A visual schedule is another strategy that’s often helpful for children with autism. You can use pictures or symbols or simply words to let your child know what is going to be happening. Use a picture for each activity your child will be doing during the day. For example, getting out of bed, getting dressed, eating breakfast, getting on the bus, etc. You can also use a schedule to get the child through the school day. Often visual cues will go a long way towards easing the stress and anxiety and will help the child know what to expect.
No matter which of these steps you use, or whether you use any of them at all, the important thing is to find some way to help ease your child into the new school year. Three months is enough time for any child to lose touch with the school year routine, but because children with autism thrive on routines, readjusting to the structured school day can be even more challenging. Once summer has come to an end, it’s important that the readjustment process be as easy and comfortable as possible for both you and your child.
Michelle Wagner is an Early Childhood Intervention Specialist and has a Master’s degree in special education. For the past ten years, she’s worked with children who have special needs and her passion lies in helping these children and their families adjust to, and overcome, the many challenges that autism brings about.
In 2007 Ms. Wagner started The Autism Connection; a support group and website in Marion, Ohio for families whose children are affected by autism and other disorders on the spectrum. Recently, she has expanded The Autism to include an extensive resource library as well as a listing of upcoming workshops and events related to autism