Back to school. Dreaded by kids, loved by parents – kind of. The end of summer means back to school for children, which can be a difficult time for all kids, especially those with special needs. Back to school means changes in routine, increased expectations and meeting new people. These demands can be particularly hard for children with autism because they experience ongoing difficulties communicating and interacting with their environments. Transitioning back to school can be an anxious and emotional time for everyone. This year may be more challenging than others because of resocialization due to COVID. Also, school this year is not going to be like school in the past as we continue to find a “new normal” during the pandemic. As parents, it is important that you get ahead of these concerns and create a plan so that your child is as prepared as possible. Doing these suggestions below does require time and discipline on your end, but the benefits for your child and for your family will pay off!
Here are some tips from our BCBAs:
- Get in your school habits early, like bedtime, waking up, getting ready, bathroom routines and eating routines; this will make the transition easier for your child.
- Run through conversations with your child about how to meet new people, how to ask and answer questions about summer, and how to ask for help.
- Practice wearing a backpack, wearing a mask, waiting, sharing, taking turns, sitting still for periods of time and using less screen time.
- Tell your child no! They will have restrictions this year, meaning they will be told no more often. Be sure to reinforce their compliance with accepting no.
- Play school at home; work on reading and use workbooks to get your child back in the habit of schoolwork.
- Walk through your child’s school and find classrooms, locker, bathrooms and other important areas of the school to help ease the anxiety of getting lost. If an in-person walk through is not possible, try to get photos and show them to your child while talking about each area.
- Take your child to meet their teacher ahead of time if possible – they are usually setting up their classrooms the week before school starts.
- Create a communication plan with your child’s teacher. How will you communicate (phone call, text, zoom, traveling journal), what you will communicate and how often you will communicate?
- Set up play dates with friends before school starts, this will help them socialize and feel less anxious going back to school.
- Practice coping skills for anxiety management like taking deep breaths, counting to 10 and yoga.
- Your child will need time to decompress after 6 hours of school. This may look like playing outside, moving their body, or simply some alone time.
Use your BCBA. We understand it is not easy and that’s why your BCBA is there to help. You can discuss this with your BCBA so they can develop any visuals your child needs, create social stories or start teaching their routines in therapy. Other tools like checklists and calendars can help manage children’s expectations. Consistency is key. Each child is unique, so what works for one child may not work for the next. Practicing these new habits ahead of time will make the transition back to school less daunting.
Don’t forget about yourself! With lots of questions and concerns, parents experience anxiety about their children heading back to school. Lead by example and practice coping skills for anxiety with your child. Remember your child is not the only child in the classroom, and other parents have concerns as well. It is important to remain patient and positive during this stressful and challenging transition time.
Other Resources: Autism Speaks is a great resource and they offer some more back to school tips here. Pathfinder also offers some good information here. A webinar regarding social anxiety & back to school can be found here.
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