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Autism Q and A: Back to School Planning

Aug 30th, 2019

Getting ready to go back to school

After much effort, you’ve finally settled your child into a summer routine, and now you have to start transitioning them back to school! Like getting ready for the summer holidays, going back to school can be challenging to some children on the autism spectrum because it means another “change of routine.” The thoughts of making snacks and lunches that our kids will actually eat, getting them out of bed and ready for the day, introducing them to a new classroom (or school), teachers, and classmates, can be overwhelming for us, parents, too.

The following tips will, hopefully, help you start organizing your transition:

Adjust your morning routine
  • Get everybody in the house to go back to a “school day sleeping schedule” by gradually going to bed a few minutes earlier every night until they reach the necessary wake-up time.
  • Make a morning chart with your child so that they are more involved in the planning of the day.
  • Gradually add a “school routine” into the chart so it won’t be a drastic change of routine for them.


Getting ready for new school/new classroom/new teacher (E.A.)/new classmates
  • If possible, visit the new classroom and meet the new teacher before school starts. Otherwise, take pictures of the new environment and the people that they will see.
  • Go through the new routine with your child using visuals and social stories.
  • Get them to write down or talk about things they like about going to school (e.g. playground, library, friends).
  • Read books or watch a video with them about going to school so that they know what to expect.
Get your child involved in preparing for school
  • Take your child shopping for school supplies and clothes or uniforms.
  • Bring them along to shop for snacks and lunch (maybe even let them pick their favourites)!
  • Pick a day before classes start to role-play packing backpack (e.g. packing school supplies, snacks, lunch, and a special item, if they have one). Make a packing list with visuals.
Personal Profile/Notes/ Summary of summer activities
  • As with attending any new classes or programs, write a personal profile of your child. Here’s a great example.
    This will help new people working with your child to have a greater understanding of their likes, dislikes, strengths, and areas of improvement. It also allows people who already know your child to have updated information. A lot can change over a summer.
  • Write a brief summary of new skills, behaviours, and favourites that your child has acquired. Notes on activities they participated in and places you’ve travelled to can also help!  This valuable information will not only give the school an update on your child but also help develop conversations.
  • Remember to put an emergency contact card with updated information (after-school care, support workers, etc.) in your child’s backpack and make sure your child knows where to find it.
Communication with school
  • Work with your consultant/B.I. to update your communication book with the administration, then refine it with them.
  • Get the daily schedule for your child’s class, including special events (field trips, assemblies, etc.).
  • Set up a meeting with your classroom teacher and SEA(s) to discuss how your child can prepare for the new academic year.


Social Stories and Visuals

Visuals work better than verbal cues for some autistic children. Visual cues can help our children understand what to expect and what is expected, at their own pace. As with planning for summer activities, the following visuals can make your child less anxious and more prepared for the new school year:

  • Schedule of the week visuals: Unlike summer, school days are more predictable, so you can create a visual weekly schedule so that your child will have an idea of what to expect for the coming week. Don’t forget to create “special activity” and “Oops” cards that you can put in when you can’t follow the schedule due to things like weather, illness, etc.
  • Timer: A visual timer can help our children understand how long an activity will last, which can ease their anxiety. Make sure the school will follow through with using the timer.
  • Pictures: This is especially helpful for introducing new places and special activities.
  • Video modelling: This is often better than pictures if it involves new rules or a new environment.
Relax and be positive

Starting a new academic year can be stressful for both parents and children, but remember, our children don’t only copy behaviour, but also emotion. Relax and try to help your child get ready for the new year by taking things slowly and by staying positive. Starting your child’s first day of school on a positive note will make the rest of the year easier for both of you. Have a great year!


Written by Lindy Chau, Information Officer



More blogs on back-to-school:

Staff Sharing: Back to School Tips for Autism

Staff Sharing: Autism, Education Accessibility, and Advocacy

Theme Resources: Back-to-School: COVID-19, Home Learning, IEPS, Advocacy and More.

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