Back to In-Person School with Autism


We are midway through our last week of summer and the first day of school is in sight. Despite going back to school in person this year, things feel anything but normal. Anxiety is high and as schools and families wrestle with questions of vaccinations, layers of mitigation, and quarantine protocols, families living with autism have even more to worry about.

The anxiety is high in our house as transitions and routines that were once habits need to be reestablished. From bedtime to morning routines, we are out of practice after 20+ months of distance learning/social distancing. And the social niceties that were once clear have grown rusty from lack of use.

I’m struggling with a feeling of overwhelm and conflicted emotions. Which area to focus on first? What rules will be new at my kid’s school? Will the bus be the same? Will they be safe, successful, simply make it through the day? How will they stay engaged when there’s so much changing in our daily life?

As my own anxiety grows I’ve sought out online resources to help with these questions and more. Here are a few of my favorites:

  • Caregiver tipsheet specific to a new COVID-19 reality with resources like editable or interactive social stories, videos, and more shared by the MN Governor’s Council on Developmental Disabilities from the CDC. Also available in Spanish

         Social story, poster, and video on masking

         Social story, poster, and video on social distancing

         Social story, poster, and video on handwashing

But as I’ve taken a step back from toolbox/research mode, I’ve landed on the most important thing for our family. One of the casualties of distance learning is the rupture of relationships, students with peers, students with teachers and staff but also families with their school community. So I am putting aside the endless checklists and spending my time reconnecting with my kid’s school – the people who will be caring for my child most of the day. People who only know him as a profile pic, a disembodied voice on a screen, and a dusty IEP. Those relationships need some targeted attention.

Here are my back to school to-dos:

  • Create and share a Get to Know Me one-pager
  • Set up a preview day so your child can go in to connect with their teacher(s). Many educators are open to these short relationship-building opportunities.
  • If possible attend all back-to-school events with your child and seek out the staff that will be working with them.
  • Find out who will be in their class and sit down with your child to see if there’s anyone they know. List three things that they know/remember about them.

 This will be the focus of many educators as they start this school year. Getting to know their students, bringing them back into the rhythm, the routine, but mostly the relationship of learning. It is through that connection that growth happens and authentic support is possible.



Author: Shannon

Shannon parents a son on the spectrum, lives in MN and writes to stay sane. She is passionate about connecting families to the services that will transform their lives. Read her full bio here.

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