Magazine article The Exceptional Parent

New School Year Transition Tips for Children with Autism: Fear and Anxiety Can Be Reduced by Taking Small Steps to Familiarize the Child to His or Her New Situation Prior to the Beginning of the School Year

Magazine article The Exceptional Parent

New School Year Transition Tips for Children with Autism: Fear and Anxiety Can Be Reduced by Taking Small Steps to Familiarize the Child to His or Her New Situation Prior to the Beginning of the School Year

Article excerpt

Although summer vacation is just starting, before we know it, those bright yellow school buses will be darting through our neighborhoods. A new school year will commence.

Moving to a different classroom, grade, or school can be stressful for any child; for those on the autism spectrum, handling anxiety about the unknown can be exceedingly difficult.

These fears can be reduced by taking small steps to familiarize the child to his or her new situation prior to the beginning of the school year. Here are some tried and true tips to making a smooth transition, and to starting a new school year successfully.

1. Talk to your child frequently about what to expect in the upcoming year. It's the simplest tip, and perhaps the most important one to help reduce your child's anxiety.

2. Cross days off on your calendar. Some children may. have anxiety about when the school year begins. Simply crossing days off the calendar may help your child better understand when the school year begins.

3. Create a new morning routine and practice it prior to 3. the start of the school year. Begin waking up your child a little earlier each morning so that he or she is acclimated to the new wake-up time way before that big first day. Do a few "run-throughs" near the end of summer vacation so your child knows what to expect in the time before leaving for school. If your child responds well to visual schedules, you might create one outlining everything, from getting dressed to going on the bus.

4. Take a tour of the school. This can be arranged with the case manager of your child study team. You may not get to meet your child's new teacher this early, but at least your child will become familiar with the building prior to attending. When you are on your tour, visit the main office, bathrooms, cafeteria, gym, library, playground, and any room your child may spend time in during the coming year. Take pictures on your tour and incorporate them into a social story afterwards, so that you and your child can review it during the summer (a social story is a book that a parent or caretaker creates to explain in written and/or pictorial detail what the child should expect for an upcoming event).

5. Walk through emergency procedures on your visit. Many children on the spectrum have difficulty with loud noises and breaks in routine. If possible, when on your tour, have your case manager show your child where to go and what to do during any emergency scenario. Doing this will help your child be prepared, and he or she might find it fun to have mom or dad practice standing along silently.

6. Create a daily school schedule for your child. You may not know the exact routine, but even walking through one day may make your child feel more at ease. If possible, ask your case manager to acquire the present year's schedule prior to your tour, and have your visit at the school follow that schedule.

7. If at all possible, have your child meet the teacher prior to the start of school. Remember to take his or her photo and add it to your social story.

8. Write a letter outlining your child's strengths, weaknesses, possible sensory issues, dietary restrictions, and favorite reinforcers. If possible, have your child help you create this document, as it will be invaluable input for school staff. …

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