Tips For Going Back to School!
Back to school can be an exciting time for children and parents alike. It is also a time that can present unique challenges, especially for children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Going back to school generally means several major changes for your child, including new teachers, friends, schedules, classrooms, or even a new school. Anticipating these changes can be very worrying for any child, but some of these worries may be lessened by taking steps to help familiarize them with their new school environment and routines.
Take a Tour of the School
If possible, arrange an opportunity for you and your child to visit their school/classroom. This may also be an opportunity to introduce their new teacher as well! If teachers are not yet assigned, at least your child will become familiar with the building prior to attending. Take time to visit any areas that your child will be spending the majority of their time throughout the school year. These may include the main office, bathrooms, gym, library, playground, and classrooms.
Returning to school typically means that your child will be transitioning from not having a schedule, to following a strict school schedule with consistent tasks and routines. Having a consistent routine is often very helpful for children with ASD. However, adjusting to the changes that come with new routines can add significant stress that goes beyond the typical back-to-school blues.
If your child is a visual learner, try introducing a visual schedule ahead of returning to school to establish as a tool for use at home and in school when transitioning from one activity to another. At home, you may use a visual schedule to lay out a sequence of daily activities that your child is familiar with that they can check off or sticker as they complete each one. This tool can then be transitioned to the classroom where your child can use corresponding pictures to signal transitions to lunchtime, recess, subject changes, etc.
For tips to create and implement your own visual schedule, you can refer to our earlier blog post: What’s the Deal with Visual Schedules.
In the weeks leading up to school, it is very helpful to have discussions with your child about what to expect in their new school or classroom. Social stories can be an extremely helpful tool to facilitate these conversations and prepare your child for how they may feel in these situations. Social stories may include information such as first day of school, morning routines for getting to school, things they may do/see at school, and how they may feel about returning to school.
If you are able, add in photos of teachers and educational assistants, new classrooms, school buses, bathrooms, and any other visuals relevant to your child’s school transition.
Prior to the first day of school, connect with your child’s teacher and discuss a plan for establishing regular communication. This can allow for a consistent exchange of goals, strategies, progress and concerns about your child.
This is also a great opportunity to give your child’s new teacher some information about them and their diagnosis. Write a brief note outlining any unique personal information or helpful strategies that will help both your child and their new teacher succeed in the classroom. This may include strengths, areas of need, possible sensory concerns, dietary restrictions, or favourite reinforcers. If your child does not yet have an IEP or any other established accommodations, this may provide teachers and other classroom aides with helpful resources to ease your child’s transition and start the school year off on a great note.