Five Easy Strategies For Easing Back To School Transitions

Back to school can be stressful time for parents and students. But for parents of children with autism, the time carries even more weight. Who is the teacher? Will they ‘get’ my child? How much can they be included with their typical peers? These and a host of other questions face parents of students with autism. Here are five easy strategies that can help ease some of the growing pains when going back to school.

1. Visit the classroom/school before school starts.

Unknown situations often produce anxiety for kids with Autism, and could cause excess stimming or other problem behavior. Visiting your child’s school and inclusion classroom before the first day of class lets them see their school environment and acclimate them to the their new surroundings in a no-pressure setting. Let them sit at their desk and experience a little bit of what life will be like when the first day of school arrives.

2. Meet the teacher early.

While you are at school, see if you can meet with your child’s teacher. Sometimes teachers will come to you, however if you can, meet the teacher on your own terms. It gives you a chance to discuss your child’s challenges and begin to develop a plan for their studies and parent/teacher communication throughout the year.

Here’s a tip: if your child has a favorite food that is used as a reinforcer, let the new teacher give it to him/her during the meeting (don’t let the child know YOU brought it, of course!). Your child must view the teacher as FUN (reinforcing) to make the largest gains, so you want to start off on the right foot. Maybe she could play one of his favorite games, watch a movie or jump on a trampoline with them. Behavior Analysts call this “pairing”. In other words, pairing someone, in this case the new teacher, with reinforcement.

Just make sure she places no demands on him/her during this time, and sometimes even just asking questions can be seen as a demand and NOT fun to your child. During pairing, just playing, commenting on the activity, and giving reinforcement should be the focus. The goal is for your child to WANT to learn and approach their teachers/therapists willingly. Meeting the teacher beforehand is the first step to this process.

3. Get With the Program.

Changing schedules can be tough. That transition is even more difficult for children with autism. It is vital to get your child accustomed to the school schedule gradually before the year starts. That means set the alarm for when they will have to wake up (gradually set it earlier and earlier) and turn off the television or computer to get to bed at a normal hour a few weeks before the school year begins.

While this is good for ALL kids, it’s especially true for kids on the spectrum. When possible (and it isn’t always), FADING in changes, not abruptly changing a routine or schedule, can help minimize problem behavior and help your child handle transitions with ease.

4. Dress the Part.

Let’s face it, school uniforms aren’t always fun to wear. Many children with autism are bothered by certain clothing textures, so if your child is required to wear a school uniform, begin wearing it before the first week of school. Make it part of your child’s daily schedule so you can acclimate them to a uniform before the first day of school. You can work out the kinks, like figuring out proper undergarments if your child has clothing texture objections. This is just one more step in easing your child back into full time school.

5. Don’t take the summer off!

If you can, keep learning all summer. Even though many special needs kids attend some form of summer school, often it’s only a few weeks long. Many children with autism spend their first month or more of school just regaining skills lost over the summer. Learning opportunities abound every day, so going ten weeks without instruction means they are not learning skills as quickly as possible or new adaptive behaviors within your routines.

Not sure what to work on? Ask his teacher if there are any unmastered goals from your child’s IEP from the previous school year, and you can spend the summer working on mastering these goals. Of course you won’t spend as much time at the table due to vacations, summer camps, and other outings, but fitting in as much academic time as possible will help you child to make gains in the new school year from day one. Losing this valuable summer instruction period could snowball from year after year of taking the summer off, so it’s vital to maintain!

Back to school is a lot easier when you utilize these five techniques to make the transition smooth. Have you found any other methods that helped at back to school? Share them in the comments section.

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