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Weekend BBQ prepares kids with autism, parents for back to school season

The first day of school can be a nerve-wracking time for any child, and for a child with autism, it can pose some extra challenges.

About one in 66 children are diagnosed with autism, according to the Public Health Agency of Canada

A new school year can make any child anxious and that's even more the case for children with autism. 1:14

The first day of school can be a nerve-wracking time for any child, and for a child with autism, it can pose some extra challenges.

About one in 66 children are diagnosed with autism, according to the Public Health Agency of Canada. It can cause impairments in communication skills and social interactions, repetitive behaviours and restricted interests or activities.

A sensory-filled environment like a school can be difficult for some children, said Terri Duncan, executive director of Children's Autism Services of Edmonton.

"With kids with autism, it's often that everything is new. The teacher's new, the classroom's new, the kids are new. And that creates a lot of anxiety and that's hard for a lot of our kids," she said.

The organization held an annual barbecue Saturday to help prepare children with autism, and their parents, for the new school year.

Some aspects of the school environment, like the noise, lighting, and new textures, sights and smells can pose problems for children with autism.

Duncan said some extra preparation can help children adjust to school before the first day back. This includes using a countdown calendar, getting some noise-cancelling headphones or fidget toys, and meeting the teacher or checking out the classroom ahead of time.

The best thing teachers and other parents can do is to keep an open mind when it comes to modifying the school environment, and to ask questions.

"It would make it easier for all the families if people would just ask them what will help them," Duncan said.

"Ask them what they can do, ask them what would make their life easier. Just that one simple question shows understanding and patience."