PFA Tips: Back to School
By Pathfinders for Autism
The beginning of a new school year is an exciting yet anxious time for both parents and children. It typically brings a change in the daily routine established over the summer months. This transition can be especially challenging for families with children on the autism spectrum. While change can be difficult, the following tips will help prepare a child with ASD for the new school year and make the transition back to school easier.
First day of school
Discuss with your child the exact day and date that school will begin. Show your child the date using a wall or desk calendar or an electronic device. Allow your child to mark the date. You may want to count down the days until the first day of school to provide comfort in the expected.
Visit the school
Show your child his classroom and even his locker and desk if possible. If you go before the classroom is set up, go back closer to the first day so that your child will have a chance to see how the class will look when he gets there that first day. Take a walk through the halls practicing the routes he will travel to the various classes. While you’re there, take pictures that your child can refer to back at home. If this is a new school for your child, you may also want to consider visiting the child’s previous school and reinforcing the message that he’s not changing schools because people at the old school didn’t want him. Sometimes our kids have anxieties over these feelings, but they aren’t able to articulate those fears.
Meet with the teacher and inclusion helper
Ask for a copy of a typical day’s schedule so that you can prepare your child with social stories, visual schedules, and discussions. Let the teacher meet your child and go over your child’s reactions, learning styles, favorite things, and what challenges and frustrates your child. Make sure you share with the teacher systems that work for you at home. If you have charts or tools you use at home, offer a duplicate set for the classroom for consistency for your child. Ask the teacher if you may take a picture of him or her to have at home so that their face will be even more familiar to your child on that first day.
Make an All About Me book
A portfolio of pictures, stories, favorite things and anything else the child feels is important to share with other students and teachers could be a great tool for introducing your child.
Go through typical school activities, practice walking up to school, unpacking, taking jackets on and off, walking quietly through a hallway. Keep them used to the feeling of“school” even if it’s at home.
Reset the clocks
If you’ve allowed your child to stay up later during the summer, start rolling back bedtime now so that when school starts your child will have an easier time falling into the new schedule.
Use an alarm clock to wake the child
Let’s face it – how many kids want to get up for school? Let the alarm clock be the “bad guy” waking your child, not you. Consider using his favorite music rather than a buzzing noise.
Make sure your child’s IEP is up to date
If you haven’t looked at your child’s IEP since your last annual meeting, go through it and make sure that the goals and accommodations listed are still relevant. Have your child’s needs changed since your last meeting? Has she met some of the goals listed and is now ready to take on new challenges? Remember, you don’t have to wait for an annual meeting – you can request an IEP meeting at ANY time.
Prepare your child for situations that may not go as planned. Discuss a plan of action for free time, such as lunch and recess. Use social stories to familiarize your child with routines and how to respond when an unexpected event occurs. Anticipate sensory overload. The activity, noise, and chaos of a typical classroom (and cafeteria) can sometimes be difficult to manage. Establish a plan of action for this situation, possibly a quiet room where the child can take a short break. If you child has dietary issues, determine in advance how this will be managed so as to avoid any miscommunication.
Get your paperwork organized
While you’re thinking about organizing new binders, paper and pencils, take a moment to evaluate if your own paperwork is in order. For tips, download our Guide to Organizing Your Paperwork.
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