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4 tips to transition back to school for children with autism

This article was writtten by Chrissy Kelly who is a mother of two boys with autism, Greyson and Parker and a regular contributor to the Autism Speaks website. Thank you to Autism Speaks for sharing their article with DDA!

Going back to school can be extra stressful for children with an autism spectrum disorder (ASD). People with ASD often have greater difficulty with transitions. This may be due to a greater need for predictability and routine, challenges in understanding what is coming next, or difficulty when a pattern of behavior is disrupted.

Transition strategies can reduce anxiety, increase appropriate behavior and help students participate successfully in their school environment by making a more gradual entrance. Here are some things we do to help with the back to school transition.

1. Spend time at school

A couple of weeks before school starts, we go to visit, hang out on campus and discuss the upcoming change.

2. Visual supports

There are several research based, visual strategies that are used to support individuals with ASD in preparation for a transition. One of our favorite ways to prepare for the unexpected is by using Social Stories. This tool is a great way to identify a concern and develop a story that supports the desired outcome. The stories are written from a child’s perspective using language that is appropriate for that child’s development.

Your story should address any specific strengths and deficits your child may encounter during the school day, while always creating a positive outcome. For example, if your child has difficulty eating lunch in the cafeteria due to the volume, you can remind them of self regulation strategies that have been successful in the past.

3. Dress rehearsal

There’s nothing worse than stiff, brand new shoes or a scratchy shirt tag. But to a child with autism and sensory issues, these things have the potential to ruin their day and seriously impede their ability to learn and adjust.

Break in new shoes and clothing before school begins. If you can, have your child use and wear these items for a few weeks before their first day. Depending on how much routine your child needs, you may want to use a new lunchbox or back pack several times leading up to the start of school.

4. Communication notebook

Part of building a good relationship between school and family is communication. I know this tool helps put my mommy transition anxiety at ease, and it also helps to set your child up for success. A frequently used writing tool for home-to-school communication is a notebook the child carries home daily.

The most successful models contain a two way exchange of information. Just as we desire to know what our child is doing at school, the teachers desire to know if there is any information about your child that may affect them at school. Perhaps your son has been crying frequently, or your daughter woke up at 4am and hasn’t gone back to bed. Those are the types of things important for a teacher to know. Make sure your child’s teacher is willing and able to contribute to this method of communication, and be sure and let them know what kind of information, and the frequency you are looking for.

Despite all the planning and execution, it often takes a few weeks for both students, Teachers and parents to fall into a working routine, so be prepared for a few kinks along the way. As a mother, I know how hard it is to let your child out into the world. Especially if they don’t have the verbal ability to tell you about their day.
But sometimes we must simply let go, and let them share their awesomeness with the rest of the world.
Note: This article has been adapted from Autism Speaks. For the full article please visit here.