Back to School Tips for Teachers in Autism Classrooms

In last week’s video blog I discussed how back to school is usually a stressful time for both parents and kids with autism. But what I didn’t talk about is that it can be super stressful to teachers too. Today I’m going to give teachers and other school staff some advice on reducing stress in autism classrooms, especially during the first month of school.

Today I got a message from a special education teacher who just got assigned to an autism support classroom for the first time. She has no background with kids with autism, and she sounded overwhelmed and scared.

Thinking back on my years working as a lead behavior analyst for the Pennsylvania Verbal Behavior Project from 2003 to 2010, and my more than 15 years working with and coaching teachers and Speech Language Pathologists and other BCBAs and para-professionals, both in person and now online, I came up with 3 things I’d recommend to ease the back to school transition for autism support teachers and other school staff.

Tip #1: Create a one-page summary sheet for each child

You should have the child’s name, the parent’s name, the contact information, diagnosis, allergies, language level, problem behaviors, and how to prevent problem behaviors. Also, the types of reinforcement they like, and any info about eating and toileting (if that applies). If you listened to my blog last week when I talked to parents, one of my strategies was for them to send in a one-page summary sheet to you. But you as the teacher, I would recommend that you gather some information from not only the parents, but also from documents like the IEP, or individualized education plan, and behavior support plan.

On part of this one-page summary sheet, you should also note how the individual child is transported to and from school, what their bus number is, and if they have some kind of alternate schedule where they take the bus in and a parent picks them up in the afternoon or a babysitter. It can get quite confusing, especially for children with autism who may not have the language ability to tell you which bus they’re on, or if something special comes about on Tuesdays for pickup, etc.

You should also note on this one page summary what kind of therapies they get each week or each cycle, and the frequency and duration. Whether they have a one to one is also important. You should be able to create this one page summary sheet by first looking at the child’s IEP. Then by talking to the child’s parent or guardian at back to school night or meet the teacher, or a separate conversation per parent so that you can fill in all the gaps as quickly as possible, and so that you can get on with providing the care and the instruction that is part of the child’s IEP.

Obviously, you’ll need to know some basic information about language, behavior, and especially allergies before day one. You should pull that information directly from the IEP. The first day of school, I’d recommend sending home a form asking for any information that you think is pertinent based on what I just said, and based on your background as a teacher in an autism classroom. Also, I would recommend sending home your email and your phone number so that parents know right away who their child’s teacher is, how they can contact you. Maybe you put the time where that would be from 3:00 to 3:30, when the children are dismissed and you are staying there doing paperwork. That is the best time to reach you. Or maybe you would prefer emails, and then you could set up phone calls if necessary.

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You may need to help by making calls and reaching out yourself to complete these summary sheets. It may not be so clear from the IEP, and maybe some of the parents aren’t able to make it to back to school night, and so you’re missing really crucial information. But I would urge you to get this one page summary sheet done as quickly as possible, and keep them all in their own binder, or maybe the summary sheet for each child is the cover sheet of the IEP, so that you can quickly look at it. But I do think that gathering the critical information is just so important to having less stress, especially in the beginning of the school year.

Tip #2: Figure out how you’re going to communicate with each parent and how often.

If a child can’t communicate with his parents and tell them about his or her day, you’ll need, in my opinion, daily communication with more details than you would need with children who are more conversational. But even for a child with relatively good language, you still might need to communicate more with the parents, especially in the beginning of the year.

Tip #3: More assessment

Tip number three is, once you have the summary sheets and open lines of communication with parents of your students, it’s time for more in depth assessments. We can’t just assume the child is as described in the last IEP. Maybe there was a regression over the summer. Or maybe whoever evaluated him last year and gave you present ed levels, they weren’t as accurate as they needed to be. Or maybe additional assessments are needed.

We can’t also assume that everything in the summaries as described by the parents is true either. Not that they’re not telling the truth, but kids as we know can act very differently in home environments than they do in school environments. Teachers and everyone involved needs to assess each child in all areas to make sure we’re able to increase the good behaviors like talking and reading, and all kinds of skills, while decreasing any problem behaviors. I recommend using the VB-MAPP assessment, which I’ve used for more than a decade. I recommend the VB-MAPP for most kids with autism.

But I’ve created a one-page assessment and a one-page planning form that you can quickly assess all of your students with during the first few days or few weeks of school. That summary sheet is available in a free guide you can get at

In summary, I’d recommend 3 things to help teachers and other school staff reduce stress in the first month of school. Including, step #1 is making that one page summary sheet to keep track of all your students more easily. Step #2, determine how best to communicate with your student’s parents. Step #3, complete your own assessments, like the one in my three-step guide.

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!