Going back to school can come with a long list of challenges for all children and parents. But it can be even more challenging for parents of children with autism.
While children who have autism respond well to routine, getting them back into certain routines (or developing one for the first time) can take a lot of time and patience.
Unfortunately, at times, it can be frustrating when the routine you’re trying to establish isn’t working. Or, perhaps, when you have to introduce something new to which your child isn’t responding well.
While back to school challenges may always arise, there are certainly some helpful things you can do to better support your child with autism and make the transition easier for them.
Consider some of the following ideas.
Visit Your Child’s School and Meet Their Teachers
One simple way to ease some apprehension in your child is to introduce them to their school and teachers ahead of time. For example, taking your child to play on the school’s playground or explore the playing field or blacktop area over the summer can help your child feel more comfortable during less structured times like recess and P.E.
You can also set up a meeting to visit the school the week before classes start. Even if your child went to the same school last year, reintroducing them is never a bad idea. You should also make a point to learn your child’s schedule so you can walk with them to each of the classrooms they’ll be visiting each day.
If your child’s school has a “meet the teacher” or “back to school” night, be sure to get involved so your child feels more comfortable with their new teacher(s). If the school doesn’t offer something like this, or if you think your child might be overwhelmed by the amount of people at one of these events, ask to set up a brief meeting with the teacher so they can introduce themselves to your child.
Get Your Child Used to Their Clothes
Back to school shopping is an exciting event for most parents and kids to do together. When you have a child with autism, you’ll have to do this well ahead of time.
To make this somewhat daunting task easier, Target has a line of adaptive clothing called Cat & Jack. This sensory-friendly clothing has flat seams, heat-stamped labels instead of tags and soft fabrics. Be sure to take advantage of these clothing options available for toddlers, kids, teens and adults.
Prepare for the Bus Ride
If your child is taking the bus this year, see if you can set up a meeting with the driver. If this isn’t possible, make sure you introduce yourself and your child to the bus driver on the first day of school. Handing the driver a short (3-5 bullet points) list of helpful hints to help your child follow directions or remain calm on the bus can aid in preventing problems from occurring.
Social stories are a great way to help prepare children with autism for things like bus rides. These stories can help review what your child can expect to happen during the ride as well as how to behave appropriately and safely on the bus. More generic social stories can be found online or on Pinterest, or your child’s special education teacher may have one already personalized for their buses and school. Include visuals and/or pictures in these stories to help your child understand. Keeping a copy of the social story in the child’s backpack and letting the bus driver know it is there can be very helpful as well.
Create a Visual Routine
Speaking of visuals, creating one for your child’s everyday routine can end up being a big help. Start by creating a visual routine for how your child will start each morning.
With the help of their teacher, you can also create one to get them from class to class each day. This could include things like a map of the hallways they take. Or you may want to include actual, real photos from inside the school.
The more familiar your child can become through visuals, the less intimidating the actual environment will be for them.
Getting your child with autism prepared for a new school year doesn’t have to be overwhelming. But it has to be planned out. By putting some of the above-mentioned strategies in place, you can help to keep your child from acting out.
If you feel as though you need more help, please contact me. I specialize in autism counseling for children and teens, as well as parent coaching. Together, we can make the transition back to school easier on everyone.