Back to school time can be a difficult period for any child. For autistic students or children on the autism spectrum, going back to school can be downright overwhelming. Nuances to schedules and routines can take weeks for autism students to get used to.
Sharon Gregoire, President and Director of Rehabilitation Services at Therapy Solutions Inc, was gracious enough to provide Oakland County Moms some tips to make the back to school transition easier for students on the autism spectrum a few years back. Each year we bring the back to school tips for autism spectrum students back as a reminder and to help parents of young students on the spectrum These tips can help get the school year off to a good start and can build a child’s confidence, boost their attitudes and improve academic performance throughout the entire school year.
Back to School Tips for Autism Spectrum Children:
- Sleep well, eat well. It’s important to gradually transition from a summertime sleep schedule to a school year sleep schedule. Start this transition at least two weeks ahead of time, so your child doesn’t feel the change is abrupt and extreme. Similarly, sustain a mealtime routine, especially eating a healthy breakfast.
- Get Organized. Review the materials sent by the school. Share pertinent information with your child so they can start processing what to expect early on. Pick up your school supplies early and encourage your child to help with choosing them. Additionally, try to illustrate the change for your child. For example, a few weeks before the first day of school, drive with your child to their school. Walk the hallways and classroom—take pictures. For a child with autism, visual reminders will aid the transition between surroundings at home and surroundings in the classroom. Review the pictures on a daily basis to help your child process the change in a gradual, non-overwhelming manner. All of this preparation will help you and your children ease into the first week back…and beyond.
- Set aside quiet time. With all of the new information, it’s easy for children with autism to get overwhelmed. Be sure to set aside quiet time and employ transitional tools. One such tool Gregiore uses is MeMoves, an interactive DVD program that helps calm and focus the mind and body. The person watching it mimics what they see on screen for a short, 3-minute sequence, transforming them from chaos to calm. “MeMoves can be used before bedtime, before going to school—any moment where your child needs to find calm and focus,” says Gregiore. “It’s also a great tool for teachers to use in the classroom.” More at the MeMoves website.
- Get active. While downtime is important, physical activity is crucial to helping a child with autism deal with high levels of frustration from sensory difficulties. According to Autism Today, physical exercise addresses and modulates both excessive stimulation and under-stimulation conditions. This enables students to attend to the cognitive information presented to them during the day. Parents should talk to their IEP (Individual Education Plan) team and make sure motor-breaks/physical activity/recess is part of the school day as this will help their child better handle the physical and emotional challenges of the school day.
- Prepare for the bus ride. Riding the bus is very stressful, almost all year, depending on the culture of that particular bus. The children know when they get to school a teacher (with a connotation of authority and control) will take care of situations that arise. On the bus, they do not have this same reassurance. Busses are noisy, chaotic, and disorganized…and can be very threatening to someone who is sensitive to noise and unsure about the physical and social process on the bus. Call the transportation office to see if the driver will be doing a practice run before school starts; ask if they will drive by your bus stop to introduce the driver to your child and give your child a sense of how the bus ride will begin. The ability to visual the bus and driver in advance will help less the anxiety your may feel in anticipation.