19 Tips for Easing the Transition to a New School Year
As the relaxed summer days come to an end and the school start date nears, it’s only natural for an entire family to feel a bit apprehensive. From new classrooms and teachers to shifting routines, rules and expectations, heading back to school can seem overwhelming at times – especially for children with autism spectrum disorders (ASD).
There are several ways you work with your child to help reduce back-to-school jitters, from scheduling school tours and meeting the teacher to role-playing. Here are some tips to help you and your family prepare during these final weeks of summer:
Preparing your child for the school environment:
1. Schedule to meet with his/her teacher and tour the school, including the cafeteria before the school year begins. If the school gives you permission, take photos of places and people you child will encounter during the day so you can create a picture book to review together.
2. Make sure your child’s Individualized Education Program (IEP)/504 Plan is in place. Let your child’s teacher know of any sensory strategies that might help during the school day and any tips to better understanding your child’s needs. Working together creates an excellent environment for your child.
3. Make sure the school has a protocol to follow if there is an emergency the first day. Be sure to provide phone numbers and an email address and encourage communication.
4. If your child will be riding a bus, call the transportation office and ask if the driver will be going through your neighborhood on a practice run and would be able to stop briefly at your bus stop for an introduction. This step may help ease some anxiety. Perhaps you can practice driving the bus route with your child.
5. Visit the school playground, if possible, so your child can familiarize him/herself with the environment.
Preparing your child at home for the transition:
1. If your child has been sleeping in, prepare for the early morning wake up by getting him/her up a little earlier each day the final weeks to ease the transition. This should help reset your child’s internal clock.
2. Depending on the needs and age of your child, create a social story or a picture schedule for the school day. Be sure to talk about the schedule and review events in the day so your child can anticipate transitions. To make it easier to conceptualize, create a visual schedule to include all parts of the day.
3. Sort through last year’s school supplies and decide which ones worked best for your child and ones he/she would like to reuse. Try color-coding the new notebooks and materials so your child can easily match which books go with which notebooks, etc.
4. Do your back-to-school shopping early so your child has adequate time to get used to new items such as a school uniform or different shoes. Choose a “first-day” outfit together you know he/she will be comfortable wearing so there will be less stress that first morning.
5. Practice school-like activities at home by playing school together. Create common scenarios for your child and offer suggestions on how to handle questions or situations. Try reading stories with back-to-school themes, especially ones that include potential school scenarios you can discuss.
6. Find a child who will be in class with your child and set up a few playdates so he/she will get to know someone that first day.
7. Together create a space in your home that is quiet and free from general noise so when your child comes home and needs to do homework or rest, it will be ready and waiting.
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Preparing for the first day:
1. Together, layout the clothes your child plans to wear.
2. Prepare the lunch box the night before – maybe add a picture or a note.
3. Ensure the backpack is ready-to-go by the front door every night.
4. Use a morning “to-do” checklist if that helps your child prepare and stay on track.
5. Get to bed on time to make sure everyone is well-rested.
6. Allow plenty of time in the morning to prepare for the day ahead to help eliminate anxiety. If you give you and your child an extra 10-15 minutes to spare in your scheduled routine, you can enjoy that “extra” time together relaxing.
7. Keep the morning routine calm and without the sound of the television, if you can. If it helps your child, play very soft music to ease some stress.
This article was featured in Issue 22 – Back to School Special Edition