Successful Transitioning: the Back to School Blues

Successful Transitioning: the Back to School Blues Break time is over—it’s time to go back to school!  Sometimes the transition from calm summer days to busy school days can be challenging for a child with autism spectrum disorder (ASD).  Heading back to school means your child needs to be awake and ready to go early in the morning and then spend all day in an environment with more people, lights, and sounds than he/she may like. This may be followed by after school activities—and we haven’t even mentioned the amount of schoolwork piled on.

Does your child need some help making these important transitions?  Let’s take a look at some strategies you and your child can use to help prepare for the week leading up to school, the night before the first day, the first morning, and your child’s arrival at school to help him/her transition with ease.

The Week Leading Up to School

Before school starts, it is helpful for your child to be introduced (or re-introduced) to familiar people he/she will be seeing (e.g., teachers, peers, etc.). Some schools allow a teacher to meet you and your child in the comfort of your own home, so they can get to know one another.  Some schools will let your child meet the teacher in the classroom before school starts, so he/she can explore the space.  Sometimes a teacher is able to suggest families who would be open to connecting before school starts, so your child can get to know classmates. Ideas for play dates include: going to the playground, getting ice cream, going to local activities (e.g., museums, fairs, etc.). These initial play dates can serve as the stepping-stone for continued play dates throughout the year, which is a great way to expand social relationships outside of the classroom.

The Night Before the First Day of School

One of the most important strategies is to create a schedule and stick to it as much as possible.  A potential schedule could include:

  • Dinner: 6:30 pm
  • Playtime and prepare school bag/lunch: 7:00 pm
  • Bath: 7:30 pm
  • Story: 8:00 pm
  • Lights out: 8:30 pm

Having the same bedtime every night is the most important part of the schedule, as sleep is important for everyone (including kids).  It’s a good idea to get the backpack ready the night before, so everything is organized. You can have your child prepare for school in different ways depending on his/her age (e.g., picking out clothes, making lunch, etc.). If your child brings a lunch to school, you can allow him/her to help pick some of the food going into the lunchbox (such as a favorite snack), so your child has something yummy to look forward to at lunch!

The First School Morning

The morning before school can be a hectic time, so having the backpack already prepared is one less thing to do.  If your child doesn’t eat breakfast at school, one important thing you want to make time for is breakfast at home. Being hungry can impact a child’s ability to focus, so it’s important to head to school with a full stomach, ready to learn!  After breakfast, you may have to wait for the bus, which can be hard for some kids.  Plan a quick activity to do with your child (e.g., playing “I Spy” while looking out the window, singing songs, etc.), so there is something for your child to do if he/she has a difficult time waiting.

At School

Time for school! If you take your child to school, saying goodbye can sometimes be a challenge. While telling your child goodbye for the day, be sure to say when you will see each other next, such as, “I’ll see you after school today.”  Having a clear expectation is helpful for all of us. For the younger kiddos, leaving when they are engaged in an activity (e.g., playing with trains) can be helpful, because they can distracted by something they enjoy.  When you are leaving, it is best to leave the area rather than stand outside the door/window where your child can see you.  Saying goodbye and still being visible can confuse a child, even though you aren’t directly with him/her. While it can be hard to see your child get upset, the teacher is well prepared and can help him/her start the day.

Do you want to know how your child’s day was? Tell your child’s teacher one or two things that are most important for you to know about (e.g., meltdowns, communication, eating, play, etc.). This way, you can obtain the information you need.

This article was featured in Issue 65 – Back-To-School Transitions

Marisa Goudy

Marisa Goudy is a Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA) with National Speech/Language Therapy Center. She directs the behavior programs in their Washington, DC, location. For more information, or to contact National Speech directly and view the Behavior BluePrints blog, visit their sites: Website Facebook

  • I used lots of visuals to help my son transition back to school. Pictures of school leading up to the event, picture routines for going to bed the night before and the morning routine, social stories etc.

  • Avatar Maybelle says:

    Need suggestions on aggressive bxs with son with ASD

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