Starting a new school year is always difficult for any child with autism or Asperger's syndrome. The change from the routine of summer to the new routine of the school year can lead to meltdowns, anxiety and other problems. Let's face it, our loved ones with autism spectrum disorders like routine … the same processes over and over again. The same faces. Getting up at the same time. Wearing the same clothes. Eating the same food … and seeing the same familiar faces.
But as a new school year starts, these things change. Wow do they change!
Many children, whether autistic or not, have challenges adjusting. But for a child on the spectrum the adjustment can be overwhelming.
How to Ensure a Successful Start of the School Year for a Child with Autism
Here are 5 tips to ensure a smooth transition and start to a new school year.
- Ensure open lines of communication. Speak with teachers, guidance counselors and the principal. If possible, contact your child's teacher well in advance of the first day of school. Also meet with your child's aids or counselors and the principal. Ensure that they understand who your child is and know what your child's special needs are.
- Help in the classroom. It is always important to understand just what issues a child with autism is facing and how well he or she is coping. Many teachers are open to having a mom help out in the classroom … as long as you are not disruptive. Find something useful to do … grading papers, filing, putting books back on the library shelves. Find something that allows you to be around your child and help the teacher. This way you will have the opportunity to see how well your child is progressing first hand, even if it is only once every two weeks.
- Set correct expectations regarding communication . Tell your child's teacher how you want to be listed with. How often. By email or in-person visits. Set this up at the very beginning of the school year to ensure that you have a steady stream of information on how your child with autism is doing.
2. Build Familiarity
- Establish routine. Nearly all children with autism crave routine. They want to know what will happen and when … and they want to know this in advance. If the school year is about to start, establish this routine now. Set a bed time. A time for doing homework. A time to leave for school and a method of getting there. Make sure your child understand, in advance, these steps.
- Visit school at least a week in advance . Tour the school. Look at the classroom. At the desk in which your child will sit. Work with the school to get these issues handles in advance for the first day of school.
- Go to the school more than once . Visit the school two weeks in advance. Then one week in advance. Then the day before school starts. Allow your child to get used to this new routine and establish familiarity with the new school, classroom, and teacher.
- Wander the halls . Work with the school administration to allow your child to wander the halls before the first day of school. Allow him or her to understand the lay of the land. Visit the gym, the cafeteria, the playground, the library. Ensure that there are no areas of the school that will be a surprise to your child the first time they go there once school has started.
- Take photos . This is often a great way for a student with autism or Asperger's syndrome to establish familiarity and get used to the school environment in advance of day one. Take photos of the school … his or her classroom, their desk, the cafeteria, the gym. Allow your child to view these photos and make a photo scrapbook so that they are comfortable with the setting before school starts. This way, the only new aspect of the school that your child will not have seen before school starts is the student body.
3. Develop Routine
- Develop a set schedule in advance. Before the first day of school establish the entire school year routine. Where will your child sleep, eat, play? What about chores? Get this all established before school starts.
- Allow your child to have input. Depending on the age of your child with autism, allow him or her to contribute to the establishment of the routine. Let them have input. What time will they do their homework? What time is bed time? Where will they sit to do their homework? The more input your child with autism has on these issues the more comfortable and cooperative they will be.
4. Organize for Success
- Get your child organized . With most children with autism, chaos reins in their heads all the time. It is essential to help your child stay organized … especially now that school is starting.
- Set a specific place to do homework. Ensure that the right school supplies (pencils, erasers, paper, etc.) are there and have their organized place. Lighting and noise are often sensitivities that children with autism struggle with. Make sure your son or daughter have an appropriate light and that their study spot is quiet.
- Eliminate noise . Ensure the home environment as well as the place that you set aside for your son or daughter to work is quiet and appropriate for studying. Make sure the TV and radio is off in the house and that other siblings are not running around causing commotion when your child with autism is trying to study.
- Establish a timeline . Once your child is home from school a good idea is to allow some down time … maybe 30 minutes. Then it is time to do homework. Establish a specific time for play, for homework, for down time … and stick to this schedule.
- Allow your child to learn and develop scheduling skills . One issue that plagues many children with autism is poor organizational skills. Allow your child to help establish an organized plan for the new school year. By doing this your child with autism will learn a valuable organization lesson that will help through his or her life.
- Develop self-advocacy. You are your child's best advocate. You will help them with homework, help them get to school; make sure that they receive the resources that they need to succeed in school. But, over time, your child needs to learn self-advocacy. As your child gets older, perhaps as a teenager, they will need to understand that the “squeaky wheel gets the grease.” They will have to understand what their rights are and begin to stand up for them.
- Allow more responsibility over time. In the middle school years and especially in high school, your child should learn what he needs to be successful and practice getting these resources. After all, what is school for? It is to help your child transition into young adulthood. While it is important for you to fight for resources for your child, you can not always be there. This is the time when you need to help your child help themselves.