Most parents are quite delighted when its time for their child to go back to school in the fall. The routines and predictability can actually relieve stress for many of us. And isn’t it great that you don’t have to hear “But there’s nothing to do!” every hour of the day? Children with ASD often also enjoy returning to more predictable routines, but the transition from more “free” or unstructured time to one in which timelines become critical is not always easy. Here are some tips to help facilitate a smooth transition into the new school year.
About two weeks before school will start, try to re-establish bed times and morning routines that you will need to have in place when school starts. Sometimes it helps to do this gradually… e.g. start by making bedtimes 15 minutes earlier, then ½ hour earlier, etc.
- Find out as much information as you can about what the “first day” back will look like for your son or daughter. Teachers are often in their classrooms during the week before school and this would be a great time to go in and take pictures of your child’s classroom or even take him in for a visit. Be sure to call first… the principal is often the person who can make these arrangements.
- For older or more able students, help them prepare a questionnaire for their teacher to ask questions that are important to them. If you are unable to arrange to have your child meet with the teacher to ask the questions in person, ask the principal if you can drop the questionnaire off to be picked up later. Including a “thank-you” note for the teacher can be a nice touch and helps build those all important relationships! We’ve included a sample questionnaire below that you can adapt for your use.
- If your child struggles with verbal communication, help him build a portfolio or “all about me” book that includes pictures of himself, your family and pets, special events or collections. Highlight his strengths and interests. He can use this book to help others get to know him at school.
- Use a calendar to mark off the days until school starts so your child gets used to the idea and gets prepared.
- Arrange for your child to “buddy” up with another child who will be in his class if at all possible.
- If your child will have an educational assistant, phone the school and ask to arrange a meeting with your child and the assistant on the first day of school.
- Deal with any reluctance or anxiety your child may have about returning to school. It is often best not to dwell too much on school anxiety, thus giving the anxiety more “weight” in the mind of the child. However, you can’t ignore it either. Be calm and matter of fact. Find out the answers to your child’s questions and put them in writing or pictures that he can refer to.
- Arrange for special activities or rewards for the first couple of weeks back. This can be especially helpful for the child who tends to worry about everything. Special activities or rewards can help take his mind off what he may perceive as “negative”.