The new school year means increased anxiety for many children, especially those with autism. The unknowns – who is going to be my teacher, will I know some of the students in my classroom, will I be able to find my classroom, what time does the bus come – are just some of the worries that all children have. There are things parents can do that will help relieve anxiety and increase the chances that your child with autism will have a smooth transition and a good start to the school year.
Have a calendar hanging in an accessible place. With your child, identify the number of days left before school begins. At the end of each day, have your child cross off the day and count the number of days left.
Begin to establish bedtime and early morning routines that will be in place during the school year. Ideally, these routines should begin a week before school starts. Routines are extremely beneficial for all children, but even more so for children with autism. Established routines mean less stress for your child because they know what to expect.
If the school is new to your child, visit the school without them and take pictures of the school building and all the environments inside that your child will be using. This could include the special education classroom, the general education classroom, the lunchroom, the gymnasium, the nurse’s office, and the main office.
Take pictures of your son or daughter’s special education teachers, general education teacher, paraprofessionals, principal, and any of the staff that serves your child. Using these pictures, you can compile a Social Story Book that can be read to you son/daughter daily. If they are able, have your child compile and write the book along with you. Include only one or two items per page. As an integral part of the book, include the morning and night time routines. Make sure to contact the transportation company and find out the time the bus will come each morning so this can be included as well.
Be sure to visit the school and staff before school begins.
Put together important information regarding your child for teachers and staff. They can reference this throughout the year. Information that would be most helpful to teachers:
- your child’s strengths
- things your child like, special interests
- what motivates them
- any medical issues
- communication skills
- sensory issues
Teachers should phone parents and introduce themselves. If you are unable to get your child to school before it begins, make sure you connect with the teacher and share this information.
If the school is brand new to your child, it is more important to visit the school even if there is no opportunity to meet his/her teachers ahead of time. Invite your child’s teacher to your home. Having your child’s teacher come to your home can be an invaluable opportunity for them as well as you and your child. All children and especially children with autism respond differently in new environments. This is an excellent way for the teacher to get to know your child and see them in a relaxed mood.
Lastly, find out how the teachers will communicate with you. Many parents like to have weekly written updates either by email or through a home/school notebook. Many children with autism have a difficult time telling their parents what they did throughout their school day. Knowing what happens during the day helps parents talk with their child.
You should also be provided your child’s daily schedule within the first week or two of school. Don’t hesitate to ask for it if you don’t receive one.
I hope these few suggestions help your family and increase the likelihood of a great beginning to a new school year!
Read more of our Back to School Tips here!