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Preparing for Back-to-School with Autism: 4 Ways for Parents to Help    

Written by O'Connor Professional Group
Published on July 24, 2023

With Labor Day on the horizon, the summer is drawing to a close, and parents everywhere are gearing up for the back-to-school season. Back-to-school season can be a very exciting time for parents and children with the prospects of new classes, teachers, supplies, and friends.

However, for parents whose children have autism spectrum disorder (ASD), this time can also bring about unique challenges and concerns. Navigating the transition from a more relaxed summertime routine at home to a more structured way at school can be overwhelming mentally, emotionally, and physically for you and your children. However, with the right preparation and proper support, you can help ease your child’s transition back to the classroom.

Below you will find four strategies  to make the back-to-school transition easier for you and your child.

1. Establish Routines

Children with autism thrive on routine and predictability. This summer, you may have allowed them to stay up later at night or to sleep in. Or you let them watch more television or play more video games. All perfectly fine for a child’s summer vacation!

But as the school year approaches, try to reintroduce school-like routines into your child’s daily life gradually. Try to establish consistent bedtimes and wake-up times to regulate their sleep schedule. Try integrating more reading, writing, and mathematics-based tasks into their playtime. Perhaps you could even practice other school-related tasks, such as packing a backpack or getting ready in the morning, so that they become familiar with these routines.

Creating a written or visual schedule or using a timer throughout the day can help your child understand and anticipate changing from one daily activity to the next. Doing a few practice “run-throughs” of these activities near the end of summer vacation will help teach your child what to expect in the mornings before and during the school day itself.

2. Communicate and Collaborate

Reach out to your child’s school and teachers in advance to discuss your child’s needs and accommodations. Arrange a meeting, schedule a phone call, or write a letter to discuss your child’s strengths, challenges, possible sensory issues, and potential dietary restrictions. If you choose to write a letter, you might even have your child help you create this document. Share relevant information about your child’s ASD diagnosis and any strategies that have worked well in the past.

Open lines of communication are vital in ensuring that your child’s needs are understood and met. By working together as a team, you can create a supportive learning environment and be confident that the school is equipped to cater to your child’s needs. If possible, maintain your dialogues with your child’s instructors in the school year. This will not only help you track your child’s progress and needs, but it also shows the school your investment in helping your child find success. Also, be sure to thank them for their help!

3. Visit the School

For children with ASD, a sense of familiarity can help reduce anxiety. If possible, arrange a visit to the school before the academic year begins. Visit your child’s classrooms, map their route through the hallways, and explore other key areas such as the cafeteria, playground, gymnasium, and nurse’s office. These “school previews,” as autism and education inclusivity scholar Paula Kluth calls them, are helpful because they allow your child to see, experience, and learn about the school before they show up on the first day. This is highly effective for students changing schools or entering a new classroom for the first time.

4. Prepare for Sensory Challenges

Many children with ASD experience sensory sensitivities, and as a result, school environments can be quite overwhelming—with their bright lights, loud noises, and crowded spaces. To help your child cope with these challenges, work with the school to create sensory-friendly accommodations. This might involve providing noise-canceling headphones, a quiet space for breaks, or fidget toys to help them focus. Once these sensory-friendly accommodations are agreed upon, ensure your child always has access to at least one throughout the school day.

Support a Smooth Back-to-School Transition for Your Child with Autism

Altogether, returning to school can be a time of excitement but also trepidation for children with autism and their parents. Most children can pick up on their parent’s anxiety, so try to do your best to relax and stay calm as you prepare them for the first day and through the school year.

By following the above steps and by taking a proactive approach, you can help ease the transition back to school and set your child up for success. However, please remember that every child is unique and these solutions are not one-size-fits-all. Tailor these strategies to suit your child’s specific needs so that with careful preparation, you can make the back-to-school journey a smooth and positive experience for your child.

back to school

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