When I was a child, I was always excited as the school year approached. I had butterflies wondering about a new class, new teachers, or even going to a new school and I was never really sure what to expect. I was able to talk about this with my parents and talk about the things that were making me anxious.
Change is not easy for all of us and we all have many different ways to cope. Some may avoid change; others find ways and tools to make it easier for them.
Now think about the children with autism, many of these kids are not able to understand change, and if they do they have difficulty expressing the emotions they are experiencing. For children with autism, this time of year can be especially stressful. These changes may bring some new anxiety, and maybe even some acting out.
Here are some ideas to make this transition a little easier for your children on the autism spectrum.
Visit the School
Before the school year starts, try to visit the school and the class so that your child can get comfortable with their surroundings. If you can, meet the teacher and see where your child will be sitting. Visit the areas your child will be spending time in as well, the lunchroom, play area, and gym.
Read Stories/ Watch Videos/ Create Visual Aids
As you get closer to school starting you can watch videos or read books about the first day jitters, picture books are a great option as many children benefit from visual cues. A calendar with a mark for the first day will allow your child to count down the days and weeks. Create a social story or picture schedule for school routines. Start reviewing and practicing early. We use picture stories throughout the year and they are very helpful. Including pictures for "get dressed," "brush teeth," "eat breakfast," and "get backpack" would be a good start. You can also do another for the routine to get to school and see if the teacher may want to do another for the day at school. This will give your child a clearer idea of what the day will be like and what is expected from them.
Get Organized/ School Shopping
Any papers that are sent should be looked over and you can share information with your child so there are fewer surprises. Have your child go with you and be a part of shopping for school supplies. If there is a favorite item from last year that your child can use again, that may bring some comfort as well.
Sleep Well, Eat Well, Create a Schedule
It’s important to gradually transition from a summertime sleep schedule to a school year sleep schedule. Start this transition ahead of time, so your child doesn’t feel the change is too extreme. When it comes to a mealtime routine, get breakfast on track ASAP, it is a great way to ensure that they have one meal in before dinner. I do not know about many of you, but our son is not a great eater and lunch usually consists of chips and carrots.
Down Time & Exercise
Children with autism can easily be overwhelmed, it is a good idea to set some quiet time each day that will allow them to rest. Activity/ Exercise is also very important to help a child with autism have an outlet for the anxieties they may be experiencing. A bike ride, a walk, anything outside to get the energy out will be a helpful tool. We also get out in the yard with hula-hoops and dance!
Buses may be noisy; some children on the spectrum can really have a hard time with this. Check with the transportation office and see if the driver will be doing a practice run, see if they will be driving to your stop & introduce the driver to your child. If not, at least get a name for a sense of identity.
The lines may be long to get in and out of the car, have some distractions for your kids as they are waiting in the car, coloring sheets, hand held device etc.
Back To School Shopping
Back to school shopping can be tough for many autistic kids. Many children on the spectrum will only wear a certain texture or fabric. Our son will not wear any buttons on his shirt collar. We need to wash everything first and remove tags too. When they have clothes that they are comfortable in, the morning is much smoother. One tip for us is wearing elastic waist pants! Lay out the outfit for the first day and have your child be a part of it, we actually lay them out for the whole week.
Haircuts can create much stress for many kids on the spectrum. We have found that going midweek is better than a weekend; we also have shared with the stylist that our son is on the spectrum. If you can find a shop that has a TV, that may help too.
Not much time passes for us before the homework starts, what we do at home is allow a 30 minute break for a snack and down time before starting homework. We set a clock so our son knows when the break is over and he will then start his homework.
Raising a child with autism can have some very stressful moments and I hope these tips help your back to school experience become a smoother one. If you allow more time for everything during the first week and take some deep breaths, I think we will all be ok!
Things Mom & Dad or Caregiver should get done:
- Get all of your medical information in order (vaccinations, documentation from physicians, allergies, medications, etc.)
- Emergency contacts are a must, be sure the school is aware who can pick up and drop off in an emergency. Provide a cell phone number for the contacts as well.
- Dietary concerns should all be discussed with school.
- IEP dates may be needed, as the school year starts, your child may need some tweaking on their plan, be diligent with this and be the voice for your child!