It’s getting to be that time of the year again. Labor day is rapidly approaching, signaling the end of another summer, and for those of us who are parents, the start to a new school year. Many aspects of going back to school can be difficult to adjust to for children, from having to wake up earlier to dealing with the pressure of being in a new classroom and meeting new kids. For children with autism, this transitional period can be significantly more difficult for them when compared to their peers.
Taking steps to make sure your child is prepared to return to school, both mentally and emotionally, is essential to their success. Here are some tips from professionals with experience in working with children on the autism spectrum, as well as parents of children on the autism spectrum, on how to help a child with Autism successfully transition back to school.
- Paula Kluth, a scholar who works with teachers and families to provide inclusive opportunities to children with disabilities, explains how doing a “school preview” prior to the academic year can benefit children with autism. She says, in an article on her personal website, “Many students with Autism will profit from seeing, experiencing, and learning about the school before they show up on the first day. This is an effective strategy for students who are changing schools or for those who will be going to a certain classroom for the first time. A student can pre-view the school using many different tools. Some learners might appreciate a videotape of the school and its rooms, complete with short interviews with his new teachers. Other students like to tour the school themselves and meet teachers face to face before school officially starts. Still others may want to hear siblings, parents, or friends tell them about the school.”
- Kluth also recommends that children with autism utilize a personal portfolio When describing this concept, Kluth states “Students who have unique needs and abilities may want to introduce themselves to a teacher through the use of a portfolio. Portfolios may include photographs, artwork, writing or schoolwork samples, lists of favorite things, or even video or audio tapes. A portfolio can be an especially helpful tool for students who do not speak or use a reliable communication system.”
- Kimberlee Rutan McCafferty, mother of two sons on the Autism spectrum, in a recent article written for Autism Speaks, emphasizes the importance of maintaining communication with the school faculty. On this subject, McCafferty says “ After the school year begins be on top of your child’s progress. Make contact with all of your child’s instructors in the first few weeks of school. This enables you to track how your sone or daughter is progressing and lets school staff know you are interested and invested in your child’s success.”
- McCafferty also recommends creating and practicing a morning schedule and routine, stating , “Begin waking up your child a little earlier each morning so that he or she is acclimated to the new wake-up time way before that big first day. Do a few “run-throughs” near the end of summer vacation so your child knows what to expect in the time before leaving for school.”
Of course, these suggestions are not one size fits all. Each child will have their own unique needs. We urge using your judgement and working with your child’s team of care in order to formulate a plan to ensure their academic success.