Autism TreatmentAutism Information for Parents, Practitioners & Professionals…

Autism Information for Parents, Practitioners & Professionals…

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Transitioning to the Beginning of the School Year

By Susan Moreno* with
Travis Thompson

Summer begins to wane and we feel fall in the air. For some families of school-aged kids, the beginning of the school year can be as early as the middle of August. As parents, we know that our summer routines are about to end and the rigor of the school year schedule will soon begin. Some of us worry or, at best, begin to prepare for fall IEP meetings, case conferences, etc. At this time before the next change in our household routines, we can prepare all of our kids, especially those with ASD challenges with a few helpful ideas.

Part of encourage your child’s school experience to be positive involves teaching basic skills before the school year that will make life easier for the child as well as teacher. Teach your child to follow simple one and two-step directions, such as “come here,” “sit down” or “get your book, and put it there.” Begin practicing at home a few weeks before school begins. First rehearse with your child with ASD alone. Then practice together with a friend who will be in their class or a neighbor child, to make it more school-like. You can turn it into a game by giving a prize to the child that complies with requests first. Make sure your child with ASD often “wins” otherwise it will backfire.

Here are a few other concrete suggestions.

1. Take your children school shopping.
a. First, make a list of what the school will require them to bring
b. Next, include items they may want for the beginning of the year
i. New backpack
ii. New lunch box
iii. Shoes
iv. Clothing

2. Begin changing hours of waking and sleeping where needed
a. Use gradual increments of time for waking and sleeping, progressing towards the goal of the time they should wake and sleep during the school year.
b. Make sure the increments are used for at least 5 days before changing again.
c. Use the same ideas for making a room sleep-friendly as recommended for the beginning of summer
d. Last hours for TV should end one hour before bedtime
e. Last hours for computer should be at least 2 hours before bedtime
f. A dark, temperature-comfortable room is best
g. Observe school year nightly rituals

3. Read stories about school and riding the school bus. Compose some social stories and share them with your child several weeks before classes begin. You may want them to help you with the stories.

4. If you know who your child’s principal teacher will be, begin to tell them about this teacher in very positive ways. Let them meet any new teachers before the beginning of school if possible. If it’s possible to get photos of their teacher and classroom aides from the school, its good to include their photos in recognition games, such as pointing to different important people in their life (grandma, the librarian, etc.).

5. Schools have “teacher prep” days before the first day of classes. If possible arrange for your child to visit school and briefly meet her/his main teacher during one of these days when the teacher will be less overwhelmed than on the first day of school, when classes begin. Even a 5-10 minute visit can be helpful in desensitizing the child to the teacher. This will also make it clear to your child’s teacher that you wish to be involved and will be supportive.

6. If the school is new, or the classroom is different, request a tour before the first day of class.
a. Making a map of the child’s schedule in the school can help.
b. If possible, walk that “schedule path” before the first day of school. The earlier you request this accommodation from the school principal and/or the classroom teacher, the better. Remember their schedules are hectic before school begins.

7. If they have peers nearby who are in their classes, encourage play dates, especially if they don’t usually see those peers during the summer.

8. Be sure YOUR attitude about school is positive, as our kids seem to have “radar” about our feelings! Each new school year is full of opportunities… we always do better anticipating success than anticipating problems. If you radiate your own anxiety about child’s first day at school it is likely your child will realize something is amiss, even if they aren’t sure exactly what. Your tenseness, with an anxious tone of voice, losing your temper easily, will all influence your child’s reaction to that first day at school. So try not to catasrophize! Work on convincing yourself that it’s going to be OK and that your child will be fine. Prepare yourself for the possibility that even if everything isn’t be perfect, that’s not the end of the world for your child.

9. The first few days of school, allow extra time in the morning. If it usually requires your daughter a half hour to get dressed, eat her cereal and drink her juice, allow 45-60 minutes. Rushing your child works against you! Avoid saying things like, “Your going to be late” or “Hurry up.” As much as possible, maintain a positive attitude and tone of voice, “That’s great!” “Your socks are cool!” (right after he puts them on), “Let’s get your lunch box,” are ways of encouraging constructive steps toward getting ready without sounding rushed.
PBS has some very good website articles for all parents of kids who are apprehensive about the first days of school, most of which are equally applicable to kids with ASDs. One in particular that we found helpful was “Starting School: Stage-by-Stage Tips for Parents.”

*Susan Moreno, MA, ABS, is the Executive Director and CEO OF MAAP Inc. Travis Thompson is a member of the MAAP Professional Advisory Board