15 Tips To Help Prepare Your Autistic Child For The School Year
BY DYAN ROBSON, AND NEXT COMES L
PHOTO © jordvdz/Twenty20
Aug 21, 2018
Summer is winding down which means another year of school is just around the corner.
Transitioning from summer to school routines can be a big change for kids. OK, parents too!
But it can be even more terrifying if you have a child with anxiety or autism who struggles with transitions. They may be both excited about the school year and anxious about it, especially if it is their first year attending school. And parents, it's OK if you are having the exact same feelings!
The good news is that there are many things you can do to help ease the transition for your autistic child. Things you can do a few weeks or even a month before the first day of school.
These tips and tricks will help reduce uncertainty and anxiety about going to school, as well as help your child establish a routine that sets them up for success and will help foster a collaborative and open exchange between you, your child and the school.
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- Find or write your own social story about going to school and read it through with your child. A social story can be a great way to introduce them to school expectations and routines. Personalizing the social story with pictures and names of your child's school, teacher and staff can be especially helpful.
- If possible, arrange to meet your child's teacher and the school staff before the first day of school. Arranging these meetings can help reduce anxiety and ease the transition into a new environment.
- Arrange for a school tour before the first day of school. While your child may not get to see the actual classroom they will be in or meet their teacher for the year, a tour can give them the opportunity to see the gym, library, playground ahead of time. You can also take pictures of the school and schoolyard while on your tour so that they can be incorporated into the personalized social story mentioned earlier.
- In the weeks leading up to the first day of school, visit the school playground to help your child get familiar with it and build confidence for playing during recess. Show your child safe places to play and point out unsafe places to play (staff parking lot, for instance). You may also want to write and read through a specific social story regarding recess with your child as well.
- Will your child be riding the bus to school? Then arrange to meet the bus driver ahead of time. In the days leading up to the first day of school, walk to the bus stop and show your child where they will be picked up and dropped off. Tell your child about the rules for riding a bus, create a visual schedule to help them with pickup and drop-off times and use a social story to help your child. Read the social story often leading up to the school year.
- Write a letter or email to your child's teacher to explain your child's diagnoses, strengths, weaknesses and interests. An Inclusion and Intervention Plan/Individualized Education Plan (IIP/IEP) meeting will likely not be scheduled right away so this tip is a great way to help your child's teacher know what to expect or how to best help your child. You can do this before the school year if you already know who your child's teacher will be, or in the first week or two of school.
- Make sure your child's school is aware of your child's diagnoses, especially if it is your child's first year of school or if it is your child's first year in a new school.
- If your child has strong sensory preferences, then be sure to include a favourite sensory tool or two (such as a chew necklace or noise-reducing earmuffs) in your child's backpack. Think of it like having a calm-down toolkit for on the go! It can be a lifesaver to have those calm-down tools handy on field trips throughout the school year!
- Do a countdown with your child leading up to the new school year. Cross off the days on the calendar together so they can visually see when the first day of school is and how many more days they have to wait. A countdown like this may also reduce anxiety for your child.
- Talk to your child about the upcoming school year, explain the routines, discuss all the fun new things he or she will learn, etc. Engaging in an open dialogue with your child can help ease any anxiety they may have and get them excited for the school year.
- Read books about going to school, especially if it's your child's first year of school, to help prepare them for the school year.
- Establish and practice a school routine in the days or weeks leading up to the new school year. Getting to school on time every single morning can be tough, especially during our long cold winters here in Saskatchewan, so it is important to get your child into a routine of waking up by a certain time, eating breakfast by a certain time and so on.
- Speaking of routines, establish an after-school routine during the first few days of school so your child knows what is expected of him or her as soon as they return home from school. It can be things such as emptying the backpack, having a snack, doing their homework and/or having some quiet unwinding time. I highly suggest offering your child some time to unwind after school to reduce the likelihood of an after-school meltdown.
- Don't forget about bedtime routines! In order to have your child waking up on time every school morning, getting them to bed at a regular time is important. So be sure to establish a consistent bedtime routine for the school year in the days or weeks leading up to the new school year.
- Discuss the school drop-off and pickup procedures with your child. Will they be picked up and dropped off by someone? Will they be walking to and from school by themselves, or with a friend or with a parent? Make sure your child knows how they will be getting to and from school safely for the duration of the school year. Practice these school drop-off and pickup routines before school starts. Use a social story, too, if needed.