After much effort, you've finally settled your child into a summer routine, and now you have to start transitioning them back to school!
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 for some children on the autism spectrum because it means another “change of routine.” The thought 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 a new school, classroom, teacher, E.A and 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, like the playground, library, or 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 favorites!
Pick a day before classes start to role-play, packing backpack, packing school supplies, snacks, lunch, and a special item (if they have one). Make a packing list with visuals.
Personal Profile and Summary of their 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.
Share information about your child with the other students and their families. My Booklet is a great free resource that can be updated quickly, and you can share different sections of it with certain people. For example, you may elect to share your child’s interests and likes/dislikes but not the section about medical history or family relationships.
Write a brief summary of new skills, challenges, and favorites 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 home team to update your communication book with the administration, then refine it with them. Yes, you can have a communication book! The type of communication, amount and who does the communicating from the school may vary depending on your district.
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)/EAs to discuss how your child can prepare for the new academic year. Some districts call the support provider an SEA (Special Education Assistant) and some call the support provider an EA (Education Assistant). They are the same role.
If your child may need some sensory breaks, have a card that they can give to the teacher giving them a “hall pass” while not singling them out in the classroom. Have this accommodation included in their IEP and let your child know this is available to them.
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: 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” or “Change” 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.
Create a Safety Plan (if needed)
If you have safety concerns about your child (e.g. eloping, self-harming, aggression, etc.) you will want to create a safety plan with the school sooner rather than later. It is much better to be proactive than reactive. Also, if an incident happens at school and there is no safety plan in place (or even if there is) your child will likely have to stay home until one is formed or it can be modified. This will help your child get back to school quicker if one already exists and just needs modifying. It’s important to try to work together with the school in a respectful and professional manner, this can be difficult as emotions can run high when it comes to your child’s safety. Remember, school staff are only human as well and mistakes can be made.
Advocacy: Stand Up for Your Child but Don’t Get Lost In It
It’s important to stand up for your child’s rights and be the squeaky wheel. However, your child’s school career is going to last more than a decade, don’t run out of advocacy fuel! Sometimes you need to let things go, especially the small things that won’t make a difference a year from now.
Trust in Your Decisions; It is OKAY to Opt-out of Things
Know your child and do not feel bad about having to opt-out of things for their well-being This could mean starting your child with a gradual/partial schedule at the beginning of the school year, opting out of field trips that you know they won’t enjoy or even opting out of that holiday concert. Trust in your parental instinct and ability to make good decisions for your children, and when they’re ready, they’ll shine! If your child is able to advocate for themselves then ask them their preferences.
Relax and be positive
Starting a new school year can be stressful for both parents and children, but remember, our children don’t only copy actions, 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!