It’s that time of year again. Summer has been going strong, your family has enjoyed fun times together in the sun, and you’ve mastered your summer routine with your child on the autism spectrum. With most of the summer behind you and the school year approaching, it’s time to start planning for your child’s return to school.
Start Adjusting Your Child’s Routine
There’s still some time left before most schools start their school year, but it is always a good idea to start preparing a few weeks before the first day of school to make sure your child is ready. Start slowly cutting back on activities your child will have less time for during the school year, such as video games, trips to the pool, or yard activities, and focus more on educational activities. If you can visit the school and get an idea about what the daily schedule will be like, it will help you be able to start slowly adjusting your child’s schedule at home to match with similar activities. This includes what time to go to bed and get up in the morning, the times of various subjects, meal times, snack times, and recreation.
Make Visits To the School
During the summer, your child has likely gotten used to being away from school and out doing other things. As you are adjusting your child’s schedule, start reintroducing them to the idea of being back at the physical school location. If you’ve had some play days at a local park, start switching them to the school playground and recreation fields. If you contact the school, you can often set up visits to walk around the school building so your child can start to feel comfortable with the idea of being there during the day instead of at home. It is also a good idea to go to the school yourself to meet with faculty to discuss your child’s needs, and how they can best accommodate them.
Make Use of Social Stories
Social stories are incredibly valuable tools for children on the autism spectrum, and the return to school is a perfect time to put this into practice. Make visuals with images and labels to help walk your child through what to expect and the appropriate behaviors for each time of the day. This includes the morning routine of getting supplies together, where to go once they are at the school, appropriate classroom behavior (raising your hand, not interrupting, being polite to classmates), lunchtime, recess, and going home.
Make Some Practice Runs
In the days leading up to the first day of school, go through a few “dress rehearsals” of how the morning will go. Practice getting up on time, packing a lunch, and getting everything they will need into their backpack in time to make it to school. Stop by the school and make sure they know just where to go in the morning in order to make it to their class. You may even want to take a “picnic” with a packed lunch during one of your trips to the school playground to get them used to eating out of their lunchbox.
Intentional preparation will help ease a lot of the stress your child will likely experience during their return to the school year. However, remember to try to be prepared for any problems that may arise on the first day, and practice patience and grace with your child. If you’ve prepared well and communicated with the school staff, you will be able to handle any problem that may come up when your child goes back to school.
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