You know the old saying: “If you’ve seen one person with autism, you’ve seen one person with autism.” In other words, everyone — including those on the autism spectrum — is an individual with their own unique qualities.
That said, many children with autism have difficulty with transitions. That’s why it’s helpful to plan for transitions well in advance. With most schools reopening in person this fall— some for the first time since March 2020 — it’s wise to start helping your child adjust to the reality of in-person education as early as you can.
Here’s a list of helpful hints that we hope will make the transition back to school as smooth as possible.
1. Start back-to-school routines in July
Though July is still summertime, it’s not too early to enforce consistent sleep schedules and mealtimes. If your family has fallen into habits like sleeping in and staying up late, now’s a good time to re-institute a schedule similar to the one you will follow during the school year.
2. Provide visual cues
Many children with autism respond well to visual aids that help prepare for transitions. One way to help your child get ready for school is to use a wall calendar. Have your child cross off the days until school starts. This will help him or her develop a sense of when school starts.
3. Read back-to-school stories
There are many good children’s books about going to school. Reading these to your child will help him or her prepare and encourage excitement about returning to school. Here are some titles that may work well for younger children:
- “Autism Goes to School,” by Dr. Sharon Mitchell (ASD Publishing)
- “Cameron Goes to School,” by Sheletta Brundidge and Lily Coyle (Beevers Pond Press)
- “Starting School,” by Roderick Junt and Alex Brychta (OUP Oxford)
You can also create or download social stories about going back to school. Here’s an example.
4. Visit school before the first day
Seeing the place where he or she will be going can go a long way toward helping your child feel comfortable when the first day of school arrives. If possible, arrange a tour of the school over the summer. Even better, arrange for the child to meet his or her teacher and see the classroom. Take photos and create a photo album that your child can look at in the days leading up to the start of the school year.
5. Research your child’s school’s COVID-19 protocols
If your child is too young to receive the COVID-19 vaccine, make sure you and your child are familiar with the health and safety protocols in your school district. Discuss these protocols and include them in social stories about returning to school.
6. Have a playdate
During the summers, children don’t always keep in touch with their classmates. If your child has a special friend or several friends from school, schedule a summer visit with them. Your child may be more comfortable returning to school if he or she knows there will be friends there.
7. Calm down
Back-to-school season can be just as stressful for parents as it is for children. If you’re feeling anxious, take time to manage your anxiety in whatever way helps you. Do your best to hide your anxiety from your child. Kids are great at picking up on their parent’s emotions and if you’re anxious, it’s more likely that he or she will be anxious too.