Transitioning from any break back to school can be difficult for children with autism and their families. However, transitioning to middle or high school can be extremely challenging.
Your child is not only transitioning to a new environment, but they are working with new teachers, a new team of specialists, and having to adjust to a new schedule. Not to mention being introduced to multiple classes, lockers, and more students.
All the changes can be overwhelming and anxiety-provoking not only for children but for their families as well.
During this time you may see your child regress in which they may act out behaviorally, or they may engage in more self-stimulatory behavior.
Rest assured that your child is not regressing, they are just communicating to you that they are anxious about the new changes that are happening in their life. By giving your child time, structure, and exposure your child’s anxiety to this new change can be reduced.
Below I have listed 5 strategies that have been very helpful to children and their families during this huge transition.
1. Talk, Talk, Talk
Begin to talk about this transition as soon as your child finishes elementary school. Many parents wait to talk about this big transition until a week or two before the new school year starts. Waiting can cause anxiety within your child.
Talking about the transition right when summer break begins allows your child to get used to the idea of starting a new school and you can discuss any questions or concerns your child may have about the new changes.
2. Create Transition Visuals
Create a “Countdown Calendar” that counts down the days until your child transitions to middle or high school. Also, make a social story around this transition. The social story should include pictures of the new school including classrooms, the gym, the office, bathrooms, the cafeteria, and your child’s locker.
It should also include pictures of your child’s new teachers, specialists, aides, and familiar faces such as peers from your child’s previous school. Go over this social story once or twice a day so your child has lots of exposure to their new school and the new adults in their life.
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3. Visit the School
Contact your child’s new school a month before school starts and ask if you and your child can visit the school. Also, get in contact with your child’s special education coordinator and ask if you can have a copy of your child’s schedule.
If possible, go as many times as you can to the new school and show your child where the bathrooms are and where the cafeteria is. Map out your child’s schedule and walk from class to class so that way your child knows their schedule and where their classes are.
4. Stay Organized
Buy different colored binders with dividers and then label each binder with your child’s class. For example, the red binder can be labeled as Math, the green binder can be labeled Language Arts, etc. Tape a copy of your child’s school schedule on the cover of each binder and highlight the class that corresponds with that binder subject.
In addition, buy a pencil pouch for each binder and put the necessary school supplies that your child will need for that class in that pouch. For instance, in the Math binder you may want to put pencils, an eraser, and a calculator in the pencil pouch and for Art you may want to put a pencil and colored pencils in the pouch.
Then during one of your school visits organize your child’s locker by putting the binders in the order of your child’s class schedule. This organization will help your child out greatly and teaches them how to manage multiple classes without overwhelming them.
5. Make Modifications
The purpose of middle and high school is to teach independence, but it is important that your child is successful within this new independence. If your child is having trouble opening their locker, ask to take the lock off. If your child is having trouble carrying books and binders from class to class ask if they can leave their materials in the classroom.
If your child is having trouble taking notes in class, ask if they can get printed notes. If the changing class period is too overwhelming for your child, then ask if they can leave class early to avoid the crowd during changing period.
The point is that you want your child to be comfortable and successful in their new school environment and if something isn’t working for your child, you have the right to change it to make it work. Anything can be modified.
Transitions can be tough, but when you organize, expose, and are prepare your child for a big transition you not only decrease their anxiety but yours as well. With structure, communication, and support from the new school your child’s transition to middle or high school will be a success.
Keep in mind that your child is resilient and that change is good because it teaches flexibility, which in itself is the greatest life skill to learn.
This article was featured in Issue 106 –Maintaining a Healthy Balance With ASD