Updated: Jan 8, 2020
As the parent of a child with autism, this time of year can be a taxing one as you prepare to begin a new school year with your child. Back to school time can be overwhelming and quite daunting for a child with autism. The stressors of new routines, people, school sites or schedules can be quite exhausting and dealing with them can be downright draining for both your child and you! The following 8 tips will help you and your child GET READY and have a foundation that will ensure success this school year as well as foster a love of learning.
G – Go visit the school and teacher. If it is possible, try to visit your child’s classroom and teacher before the school year begins. Allow your child to tour this new setting. Look out for visual supports to help your child know where to place their belongings, and where to sit. Prepare questions for the teacher and if possible allow your child to ask them as well as share some cool things about themselves. If the room is not yet ready, you may want to tour the rest of the campus and other common areas such as the library, playground and cafeteria. If the classroom is still being rearranged or not yet prepared, delay this visit to avoid any confusion on the first day.
E – Employ visual aids. I cannot stress enough the importance of visual aids and supports for ALL children, not just those with autism. Many children with autism have difficulty understanding the abstract concept of time and the use of visual aids can help build language and make this abstract concept very concrete. Social stories, schedules and first-then boards help children anticipate what is coming next and can also show when there will be opportunities for reinforcement! Use Google and Pinterest to find ideas and get to creating!
T – Try out your school supplies. For many children with autism, it is necessary to try out school supplies before the year begins so that they can familiarize themselves with the function of the items. This may require repeated exposure, direct and explicit instruction and practice with using these items to ensure your child has both declarative knowledge (knows what it is) and procedural knowledge (knows how to use it). Trying out your school supplies before the child gets to the class may also prevent any behavior problems surrounding these issues.
R – Review routines and procedures. You may already have routines and procedures in place for specific times of day. If you don’t yet, create routines for the morning and for afterschool that help your child get ready as independently as possible. Visual supports should be created for children who may need them to complete routine activities such as showering, brushing their teeth, or unpacking their backpack.
E – Engage with your child. While it is tempting to keep your child occupied during the morning rush by turning on the TV or allowing them to walk around with the iPad or their most favorite toy, you can use this precious time to build communication, social and self-care skills. Being a positive, interactive and engaging presence in your child’s morning routine can help them start the day on a brighter note. Take time to sit with them to enjoy a healthy breakfast, review expectations and routines, discuss how the day may go or read social stories. Also allow your child to communicate any things they may be looking forward to or fears they may be having about the day. We have all day to check our phones, send emails and be in a hurry. Just a few precious moments in the morning can help you both start the with a focus on the positive.
A – Adjust your schedule (as needed). Begin the adjustment early for the back to school schedule. Over the summer you may have allowed your child to go to bed later, sleep in later, eat different foods or even have more access to preferred items or activities. Slowly work yourself back to having a regular bedtime and waking schedule. Consider using a visual timer to assist you with transitions to bedtime. There are a variety of free apps in itunes and google play (i.e. Kids Countdown Timer) that can be downloaded to your smartphone or any device that include kid friendly visual timers.
D – Discuss potential or unexpected changes. You know what they say; even the best laid plans can go awry. While we know our children with autism thrive in environments that are highly structured and predictable, there will be times when there are changes in the schedule or routine. Decide ahead of time how you will respond to these changes and model potential solutions for your child. You may even want to consider the use of a social story to help your child prepare for new situations and the many different possibilities of what could happen within each setting. Having a plan in place will prevent you from reacting with emotion and help you remain calm as you may need to coach and prompt your child through some difficulties.
Y – Yield to the process. In other words, be EASY with your child and yourself. Self care for parents is critical! Take time to take care of yourself, specifically time to pray, exercise, sip some tea, eat healthy, meditate. While this is probably one of the most stress inducing times of year for your child; this can also be a time of angst for you. Remember, you can only be your best self for your child when you are healthy mentally, physically, and spiritually. Know that NO parent is perfect and this process is a journey.
Remembering these eight simple strategies will help you reduce the anxiety and pressure associated this busy time of year. If you need help and would like assistance to develop a BACK TO SCHOOL routine for your child which will ensure success, feel free to reach out to me at