Autism Back to School: Strategies to Ease Back to School Transitions

Many children with autism have a hard time transitioning, and the start of a school year brings about a lot of anxiety for both kids and for parents. Today, I’m going to cover some autism back to school strategies that might help make September a better month!

Depending on where you live, school may have started this week or a few weeks ago, but chances are you and your kids, especially your child with autism, may still be adjusting. I know from my personal experience with my sons, Lucas and Spencer, who are now in their early 20s, as well as from my experience working with hundreds of clients since 2003, that back-to-school time can be very stressful for parents and kids, especially when autism is involved. In next week’s video blog, I’m going to discuss strategies for teachers and school staff who might be new to a classroom or to a whole group of students, but today, I’m going to put my parent hat on and discuss three strategies to help parents ease the back-to-school transition.

Strategy #1: Get a sneak preview if you can. You might have had an opportunity, or coming up you’ll have an opportunity, to go to back-to-school night, or a meet the teacher event. Maybe your child had the ability to ride the bus as a practice. You could also request a tour, or make a transition plan to a new classroom, or especially to a new building. Make that part of the IEP if possible, even for next year.

While you are at back-to-school night, or on a special tour, or meet the teacher event, I would recommend taking pictures of the teacher, the classroom, maybe the gym, the cafeteria, the entrance, if the bus (take a picture of the bus with the bus number). You might take a picture of the principal, just anywhere where the child may be going. Maybe if they’re a little bit older, they’ll have a locker. You may want to take a picture of a locker. And with these pictures, you can make a little book, or you can just show your child the pictures on your phone, or on an iPad. It’s important that the child becomes familiar with his or her new environment. I know that for my son, Lucas, it was really important that we took pictures and we actually taught him the names of people with pictures, because he learned to name people a lot better with pictures than in person.

Strategy #2: After getting your sneak peak, figure out how you’re going to communicate with the teacher, or teachers, and how often. If your child can’t communicate and tell you about his day, you’re going to need daily communication with more details than you would need if a child is conversational, but even for children with relatively good language, you still might need more communication, even daily communication, with the teacher or teachers in the beginning of the year.

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And if your child is in multiple classrooms throughout the day, you’ll need to find out which teacher is your main point of contact and get their contact information, so that there can be free-flowing communication as often as needed. If you’re having an IEP meeting coming up soon, I’d recommend you put some form of daily communication or weekly communication in the IEP, just to be on the safe side.

Strategy #3: Your child will most likely have an IEP, which stands for an individualized education plan, which is kind of like a contract for what the school needs to provide, but these IEPs can be long, and confusing, and cumbersome. They’re difficult to read and implement by the child’s teacher, or teachers, and other school staff, especially on day one, week one, or even month one.

So, to make things easier, I recommend making a one-page summary sheet describing your child’s diagnosis and any other diagnoses or conditions, for example if your child has a peanut allergy or a latex allergy, you’d want to make sure that is front and center as part of the IEP, but also on your summary sheet. You also, on this summary sheet, want to talk about their level of functioning in terms of language. How do they communicate? Do they use sign? Do they use a picture exchange system? Can they talk? Can they request things?

You want to describe their problem behaviors and how best to prevent them, what reinforcement your child needs, his toileting schedule if that’s a concern, and if he’s really picky or has certain dietary restrictions, you might want to describe how he feeds himself or what he needs prepared that he wouldn’t necessarily need if he was typically developing. This summary sheet should be sent in to the teacher, preferably on day one, or if your child’s already back to school, you might want to do that even now. I find this summary sheet is even good to take to new physicians, if you’re seeing somebody new. To quickly describe your child in one page, I think is just a really good thing so that everybody can get a glimpse, especially in the very beginning of a school year.

So in summary, the 3 strategies to ease back-to-school transitioning are: #1) take advantage of sneak peek opportunities for you and your child, step #2) figure out how you’re going to communicate with the teacher, which teacher you’re going to communicate, and step #3) make that one-page summary with all the need-to-knows for the staff to work most effectively with your child.

To get started turning things around for any child with autism, I’d love it if you would download my free three-step guide to get you started. This guide covers three steps you can take today to help any child or client, whether they’re a toddler or a teen, and whether you’re a novice parent or a seasoned autism professional. I know you’ll find some helpful advice in this guide. And if you like this video, please share it wherever you’re watching, leave me a comment, give me a thumbs-up. And I’ll see you next week.

Ready to learn more and turn things around for your child or client with autism? Sign up for my free 3-step guide!