Each new school year brings a flurry of worries, excitement, first-day jitters and butterflies, and no one feels these more acutely than the parent of a child with autism spectrum disorder, or ASD.
Because change can be stressful, preparation is paramount. Here are some tips for setting your child with ASD up for success in the coming school year.
- The first step should be establishing and adhering to a sleep schedule. This cannot be implemented soon enough, as children on the spectrum struggle with both sleep and routines. Try to limit the amount of stimuli experienced in the hour before bed and focus on details. For example, what pajamas does your child feel most comfortable in? Does your child respond better to a snack before bedtime or no food after dinner? From what soothes your child to sleep at night, to what alarm sound wakes them most gently in the morning, every detail matters.
- After the sleep schedule has taken, then begin building a morning routine with a designated pattern of tasks; maintaining the same order of tasks is crucial. If your child prefers routinely eating breakfast, getting dressed, and then brushing their teeth, do not deviate from this pattern. Upsetting the sequence of tasks could result in a fit of resistance, which could add hours to a morning schedule. The routine must be implemented, not just discussed. Running through the routine days, if not weeks, before school begins will allow you to iron out any wrinkles and anticipate issues that may arise later on.
- If your child is attending school for the first time or is starting at a new school, visit the school ahead of time. Consider taking pictures of the campus to familiarize your child with the layout before taking them to see it in person. Using these photos, discuss what goes on in the classroom and what each area of the school is for. Try to remind your child of positive experiences that he or she has had in the past at school. Familiarity and rehearsal are key in acclimating any child to a new environment, and kids with ASD are no different.
- Send your kid’s teacher a card. Not only is it a thoughtful gesture, but you can use it as an opportunity to let the teacher know a few of your child’s likes, dislikes, and any dietary requirements he or she may have. You can also share what expectations and goals you and your child have for the school year. Most instructors will welcome the information and a little card could go a long way in helping you feel more comfortable with your child’s embarking on a new year of learning.
- Make accommodations for your child’s level of comfort. Some ASD children, particularly those with Asperger’s, wear sunglasses when in public as a means buffering both light and the feeling of being exposed. Allow your child to choose a cool pair of sunglasses to boost his or her confidence while simultaneously preventing sensory overload on the first day of school.
- Let him or her pick out their own school supplies. It may seem insignificant, but selecting notebooks and pencils themselves can generate excitement about attending class.
- Check in with your kid in the days leading up to the start of school. Ask about and address your child’s feelings and offer to understand rather than insisting that there is nothing to worry about. Use your own personal experiences to demonstrate that you know how they feel and that feeling this way is normal.
Keep in mind that snags can occur on the first day of school in spite of thorough preparation. Just don’t let them ruin your or your child’s day and simply pick the routine back up as quickly as you can. Though the prep work may seem hard, the real work comes in waving goodbye at the school entrance and letting your child do the rest of the work on their own.
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Newly middle-aged wife of 1, Mom of 3, Grandma of 2. A professional blogger who has lived in 3 places since losing her home to a house fire in October 2018 with her husband. Becky appreciates being self-employed which has allowed her to work from 'anywhere'. Life is better when you can laugh. As you can tell by her Facebook page where she keeps the humor memes going daily. Becky looks forward to the upcoming new year. It will be fun to see what 2020 holds.