Back to School Tips for Children with Autism

a child with autism  using an adaptive communication  device
Preparing for a new school year with a child with autism? Uncover actionable tips for a smooth transition. Ensure your child's confidence and comfort for the year ahead.
August 18, 2023

Welcoming a New School Year with Confidence and Joy

The beginning of a new school year is like the fluttering of pages in a brand-new book - filled with anticipation and promise. For families with grade school-aged children with autism, there's a unique set of experiences awaiting. With a thoughtful approach and a touch of creativity, the transition can be eased. Just as you would prep for a grand adventure, ensuring everyone's ready for the school journey is key. Dive in for some tailored tips to make this transition smoother.

Gradual Re-introduction to School Routines

Revisit the Routine
Kids with autism often find their groove when things are predictable. As we get ready to swap summer fun for school days, let's make the change together. Start with sleep. A week or two before school, try getting them to bed and up in the morning like it's a school day. It’s not just about dodging that tricky morning rush, but easing them into a school-time rhythm. And it’s not just sleep; think about meal times, a quiet time for reading, and even those little break times. Making these small changes gradually can make the first day back feel like another regular day – just with new adventures.

Dress Rehearsal
Imagine a fun day of pretend school at home! This can be both a laugh and a super way to get ready. Start from the morning drill – choosing clothes, packing their bag, and yes, a timely breakfast. Then, make a cozy school spot at home. Dive into fun activities they’ll do at school: maybe a reading time, some crafts, a snack break, or even a fun dance session to shake off the jitters! This isn’t just a game; it helps them remember school routines and lets you see what they're looking forward to or might be nervous about. Plus, it’s a lovely way to share some giggles and chat about the upcoming year.

Get Familiar with The New Environment

Tour the School
Imagine going to a new place for the first time – it can be a mix of fun and nerves. Before the school hallways get busy, taking a calm walk around the school can really help. This isn't just about knowing where everything is; it's about getting a feel of the place. Maybe it's the joy of spotting their very own desk or just knowing where the closest bathroom is, these moments help them feel ready. And even if they’ve been to this school before, a little reminder tour is always good. Things change, and seeing them before the first day back can make it all seem familiar and comfy.

Meet the Teachers
Teachers are such big parts of our kids' days, especially for those with autism. Saying a simple hello before school starts can mean a lot. Think of it as getting to know the coach before a big game. Share little things about your child – what they love, what might upset them, or even their favorite color. And let your child chat too. Maybe they want to know where the teacher spent her summer or if she has pets. These small talks help build connections. When school starts, seeing a friendly face among all the new ones can make a world of difference.

Use Visual Aids and Social Stories

Storytime with a Twist
Every kid loves a good story. And for children with autism, certain stories, called "social stories," can be magical. They help them understand what to expect at school. Think of it as a friendly guidebook to the ins and outs of school life. It could be about simple things like what happens during lunchtime or how to make friends during recess. These stories don’t just tell; they show, they guide, and they reassure. If you can, try creating a story with your child. It's a fun activity and helps them feel involved and prepared.

Visual Schedules
We've all used pictures to understand things better. For our kiddos, a schedule with pictures can be a game-changer. Instead of just telling them about their school day, why not show them? A visual plan, with fun images of what they'll be doing throughout the day, can make things clear and less intimidating. It's like having a handy map for a new adventure park, pointing out all the fun rides and stops. Having this can help them know what's next, and that bit of predictability can make school feel more like a fun journey.

Communicate and Advocate

Stay in Touch with Teachers
Think of your child's teacher as a co-pilot on this school journey. They're there to guide and help, but a little inside info can make a big difference. Keeping the conversation going is like giving them a handy travel guide about your child. It doesn’t always have to be formal meetings. Sometimes, a quick chat at drop-off or a little note about something new in your child's life can do wonders. Remember, when teachers know more, they can support more.

Class Chats
Kids are curious little beings. Sometimes, all it takes is a little chat to help classmates understand and be more supportive. Think of it as a friendly story session where children learn about autism and how every kid, though unique, loves to play and learn. This isn't just about teaching; it’s about making school a place where everyone feels they belong. And when kids understand, they become better friends, always ready to help and play together.

Equip Them with Calming Strategies

Breathing Buddies
Remember those moments when taking a deep breath just seemed to make everything a bit better? For our little ones, this can be a magical trick too! Teach them the "buddy breathing" technique. It's simple: imagine their favorite toy or even their hand is a buddy. They take a deep breath in, making the buddy rise, and then slowly breathe out, watching it go down. It's a fun, visual way to calm those nerves and take a moment of peace, even amidst a bustling classroom.

Quiet Time CornerSchool is fun, but sometimes, it can be a whirlwind of noise and activity. A 'quiet corner' can be a child's little sanctuary amidst the hustle. Now, not every classroom might have a designated spot like this, but here's the good part: You can chat with the teacher about creating one! Even if it's just a small nook with a comfy chair and some soft cushions, it can work wonders. If space is a real issue, the teacher might also suggest alternative calming spots, like a quiet hallway nook or a peaceful spot in the library. The key is knowing that there's a place to go, a little recharge station, when things feel overwhelming.

Prepare for Sensory Challenges

Sensory Smart Gear
Every child experiences the world in their unique way, and for kids with autism, this often means being extra sensitive to sights, sounds, or touches. Equipping them with sensory-friendly gear can be a game-changer. Soft-seamed clothing or noise-reducing headphones can make the hustle of school much more comfortable. And here’s a tip for parents: always have a sensory backup. Maybe it's a small, calming toy they can fiddle with or a soft scarf that feels comforting – having something familiar can make the unfamiliar a lot less daunting.

Communicate and Collaborate
Sometimes the best defense is a good game plan. Chat with your child’s teacher about any sensory challenges your kiddo might face. Teachers can often offer insights on quieter times in the day or suggest alternative activities during particularly noisy or bustling moments. They're your teammates in this, after all. And remember, it's not about avoiding all challenges but finding manageable ways to navigate them. Over time, with the right tools and understanding, many children find their own unique ways to cope and thrive.