4 Ways to Help Your Child Successfully Transition Back to School
The first day of school is either nearing or may have already arrived in different parts of the country. After the unprecedented year and a half that we have had, the transition back to a sense of ‘normal’ life might be feeling overwhelming or even a little bit scary. If we, as adults, are feeling this way, one can only imagine what our children might be feeling! These types of transitions and changes to daily life can feel especially significant to children with autism. Below is a collection of tips and tricks to help them adjust to their new normal successfully.
1. Talk About It
Reviewing and discussing changes ahead of time can help an individual with autism successfully manage changes or transitions. Any opportunity to discuss it with them or warm them up to the transition can help them prepare and accept that the change is coming. After spending over a year at home and adjusting to distance learning, returning to their school campus with face masks, new people, classes, and teachers can be a lot to take in. Be sure to include specific details or keywords that you use often so that your child can remember these things when they are at school. Suggestions for topics to discuss in advance include:
a. The means of transportation that will get your child to and from school.
b. Teacher’s names, class subjects and what grade they will be in.
c. Where they can find/buy their lunches.
d. Expected behaviors such as wearing masks, washing their hands, following instructions, asking for help, etc.
e. Many schools list warnings for practicing fire drills, lockdowns, etc. on their websites. It is beneficial to warn your child and talk through these scenarios so that they can anticipate the drills and are not surprised or alarmed when they take place.
2. Visual Cues
Visual cues can serve as great reminders for our kids about what is expected of them and the tasks that they need to complete. Visuals of morning and after school routines can help a child work toward independently getting themselves ready for school in the morning, while also setting reminders for what they can expect when they return home from school. Other visual cues that can be incorporated include:
a. Map of their school campus with stars by important locations such as their classrooms, the cafeteria, the gym, the bathrooms, etc.
b. A visual of their schedule with classroom numbers, transition times, etc.
c. Post-it Notes in their lunch box to identify what is for a snack and what is for lunch so that they don’t consume all of their food too early in the day.
d. Calendars in your home to show your child what day it is and which school staff they will see or work with. Calendars are also a great way to reflect upcoming holidays or fun school events.
3. Simplified Organizational Systems
There are many ways that you can help your child implement simplified organizational systems that you can monitor and continue to discuss with them when they are at home with you. Teaching these types of skills early on can help your child maintain them and implement them independently as they grow older. Ideas include:
a. Different color folders for each class (if your child has multiple classes).
b. A simple planner for them or their teacher to write down their homework in each day.
c. An envelope for special take-home notes to avoid them inevitably ending up at the bottom of their backpacks.
d. Checklists to remind them what to turn in for each class.
4. Role Play Scenarios
Role play is a great way to practice hypothetical situations with your child so that when they are on their own, they can draw from what it is that they have practiced with you. A helpful way to think through potential role-play scenarios is to ask yourself ‘What should my child do if….?’ When you’ve identified a variety of scenarios, talk through or role play with your child both before school begins and again throughout the year to make sure that they remember what to do in difficult instances. Suggested scenarios to discuss include:
a. What should you do if you get lost on campus?
b. What should you do if you need to go to the bathroom?
c. What should you do if you don’t understand your classwork/instructions/what to do next?
d. What should you do if you forgot something you needed for school?
e. What should you do if you lose your backpack/cell phone/notebook?
The transition back to school and any other major change in routine can be really challenging, especially for individuals with autism. These tools can be utilized to help set them up for success. They can easily be modified and adjusted to best suit your child’s needs and preferences.