Tips to Help Kids with Autism Transition Back to School

 

Fall is approaching quickly!  The air is getting cooler, the sun is setting earlier and your local supermarket is selling out of school supplies fast!

Time to prepare your child for the first day of school! What do you need to do?

Covering The Basics

Register with your local school, pay the fees, buy some fall clothes (those jeans from last year are probably ankle cut by now), visit the doctor for the health physical, buy school supplies, and stack up on lunch and snack items.

What do you need to do to prepare your child?

Some of these may be less obvious, but will definitely help your child transition through this change.

8 Easy to Follow Priming Strategies    

Priming is something most of us do naturally, without even knowing we are doing it. Priming is an antecedent-based strategy, meaning a strategy we can use BEFORE the behavior typically occurs, with hopes that it will decrease the likelihood the behavior will happen.  That was a mouthful.  Basically, antecedent strategies, like priming, are things you can do every day to help your child be more successful.  They won’t always work to decrease the behavior, but they might, plus they are just good things to do.

Priming, specifically, is a warning given in advance notifying your child of an upcoming event or change in the environment. There are many ways we can prime our children.  Here are some of the ways you can prime your child about the 1st day of school:

  • Visual schedules (make a visual schedule showing your child the routine for getting ready for school or a weekly calendar labeling when school starts)
  • Visuals (try using real photos of your child’s school, teacher, bus, classroom if you can. If you don’t have real photos available, you can use clipart.)
  • Countdowns (here is a sample Back to School Countdown Calendar)
  • Timers (set a timer to transition from a preferred activity to a less preferred activity, like getting on the bus)
  • Schedules of Reinforcement (set up a preferred item or activity your child can earn when they get on the bus or come home from school the first week)
  • First Then Boards (use a first then visual “First School, Then Home or Then Park)
  • Vocal prompts (e.g. “One more week till we go back to school”)
  • Social stories (it is best to make your child a personal social story with pictures and thoughts that they would understand, check out how to make a social story here.)

Sleep Schedules

If your family is like mine, we stay up later and sleep in during the summer.  This makes transitioning to fall schedules even harder.  Start slowly by setting alarms earlier gradually, going to bed earlier a few minutes each night. If you don’t already have one, develop a night time routine that is consistent.  Children with autism like routines and having a predictable one will help reduce anxiety or behaviors that can occur when trying to put children to bed. Making these changes will help your child get back onto a school sleep schedule.

For children that struggle with falling asleep or maintaining sleep, try no electronics an hour before, essential oils diffused (we like lavender), play soft music, dim lighting, or try a back or foot massage (use lotion or oils). Make your child’s bedroom conducive to sleep—dark, cool, quiet.  Children need 8-12 hours of sleep per day. It is very common for children and adults with autism to have difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep through the night. If your child is struggling with sleep, speak to their pediatrician.  Some children benefit from over-the-counter melatonin (available in gummy, chewable, or pill forms) or other medications designed to aid sleep.

School Visits

Schedule a school visit to help prepare your child for the first day of school. Attend any scheduled meet and greets at your child’s school.  If your school doesn’t have a meet and greet scheduled, you can set up a time to meet the teacher or tour the school before school begins. Contact the office or special education coordinator to schedule these visits.  When you are there, be sure to take photos for your social stories or visuals.  You can usually get photos of teachers off the school website.

From You to Your Child’s Teacher

Coordinate with the special education case manager for your child the first IEP meeting of the year.  You can meet formally or informally to discuss any changes (e.g. medications, new skills, lost skills) before school starts or within the first 30 days of school.

Teachers are supposed to read the IEP accommodations and goals prior to the first day of school, but often they are rushed and may forget what they are reading if they have to read 10-30 IEPs, plus prepare their rooms and lessons for the 1st week of school. Help your child’s teachers out by giving them something quick they can read that highlights your child’s strengths, weaknesses, preferred items and activities, and any supports you think will be helpful. Here are a few examples of handouts you can give your child’s teachers:

 

Photos Save Memories!

Don’t forget to take a photo of your child on the first day of school.  If mornings are too hectic, do it when they come home.  You want to remember your children and all their milestones they grow and they grow so fast!

Don’t worry about smiling at the camera or even looking!  If you can get a candid shot of them looking or smiling, go for it.  If not, you’ll still love to see the photo years to come.

Some of my clients have asked that we add goals like looking at the camera on cue or smiling when someone says “smile” as a goal for listener responding.  I’ve done it and for some kids this works and for some the smile looks forced.  Personally, I love more candid shots that are true to my child, but there is nothing wrong with these goals that make a difference in your family’s and child’s life!

Reinforce Yourself

If you do any of these suggestions, you are a rock star parent!  Be proud of everything you are doing for your child. Even just reading this blog! Being a special needs parent is tough, I know from personal experience.  I plan on getting my kid on the bus the first day of school, then treating myself to a favorite latte! Treat yourself! You deserve it!

How do you prepare your child for the first day of school?

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