July is drawing to a close and for parents of children with autism, it’s a good time to start preparing for a child’s return to school. The more time a child has to adjust to impending changes in his or her routine, the better.
Naturally, re-establishing bedtime and waking hours are of the utmost importance if they flew out the window with summer. If started now and done gradually, it won’t be such a jarring experience.
To accustom a child to future homework, introduce quiet activities for them like reading silently, reviewing what they learned last year, journaling, etc. at the same hour you’ll be having them do their mandated school assignments. As a cautionary note — don’t let a child solely do preferred activities or it won’t prepare them for homework.
If a child must wear a uniform or otherwise dress differently than they normally would at home, have them get accustomed to it well in advance. Stock up on seamless socks and tag-free items to avoid sensory meltdowns. And be sure to label all those clothes and other items with a laundry fast marker.
Get a jump on acquiring school supplies and let your child gather them with you. A great idea is a simple, laminated bag tag that visually shows everything that belongs in your child’s backpack. Practice packing and unpacking the backpack at home — a great exercise in spatial awareness as well as an anxiety reducer. Leave the backpack in plain view in the weeks before school starts.
Social stories are very helpful in preparing your child for a new school year. Here is a place to download a pdf of a sample flip book as you individualize your child’s story of going back to school.
If your younger child is taking his or her lunch to school, don’t forget to add a note, picture or other surprise for them to discover with their meal. Some parents suggest having them practice eating from their lunchbox at home prior to the first day of school.
The more you can familiarize your child with the school, the better. Visiting a new classroom and meeting the teacher, seeing where they are going to sit, practicing routes to the bathroom and the water fountain and trial runs for the those changing classes all ease anxiety and smooth the daunting transition.
Of course as a parent, you’ll be working behind the scenes opening lines of communication with your child’s teacher to give them the heads-up about your child’s needs. Now is the time to negotiate such things as a quiet alternative to the cacophonous lunch room, a playground buddy or a comfy corner of the room for them when they need to decompress.
If your child is older, you can establish that they need to change classes five minutes earlier to avoid the sensory overload of the crowded and chaotic halls. Of course, your child’s school situation will be a work in progress, but it’s good to be as proactive as possible about foreseeable triggers.
Enjoy the remaining weeks of summer and good luck as your child embarks on a new school year.