Help Your Child Adjust to the New School Year
As parents of children with autism spectrum disorder know, changes in routine can be very challenging for their kiddos. Even more challenging are changes that place more demands on a child with autism - such as returning to a structured school day. Whether these children were off for the 3 months of summer, or only a few weeks, back-to-school time can be a tough one for families and kids alike. Here are some tips for helping your child adjust to this change:
Use visual schedules to help your child picture and understand the new expectations of their school days. Your child’s teacher may help by sending you a general schedule or some pictures of their classroom.
By creating a visual schedule, your child will feel more relaxed when they transition from being at home all day to returning to their classroom setting. Review it with him each morning or night, but be sure to remind him that it is okay if changes arise.
Finally, review with him calming strategies he can use if he gets upset about schedule changes during the school day (e.g., taking a break, counting to 10, taking deep breaths, finding a motivating reward, etc.).
Model flexible language and self-talk:
Demonstrate for your child what it means to be okay with changes in your schedule by modeling flexible language. Chat with her about how your schedule changes after the summer is over too. Model flexible language by using phrases such as….
“I sometimes get nervous when my schedule changes, but I try to be flexible and I tell myself that I am okay with this change if I start to feel nervous or upset.”
“My schedule changed today, and I felt excited because I know some changes can be fun!”
“You and me both are flexible thinkers. I know we can handle any changes to our schedules!”
Reward signs of flexibility, no matter how small:
During the first few weeks of school, reward any signs of flexibility to change, no matter how small. Was he okay with a change in the dinner plan? Wearing a different shirt because the one he wanted was dirty? Using a different plate instead of his usual plate? Reward all of these behaviors! This shows him that you are proud of him for being flexible, and he will keep that in mind when he faces bigger changes at the beginning of the school year.
Communicate with teachers and therapists:
If your child is showing signs of difficulty adjusting to the new school year, communicate with all of his teachers and therapists. They may help you by providing schedules, visuals, and even adjusting her load of school work at the beginning of the year to help her ease into these changes. If your child is still having difficulty, talk about his specific problems with him, and then address each one with the teacher. More visuals, such as a worry book, may help him communicate these needs. Be sure to put a positive spin in this activity, though, by making 2 columns: one for his worries, and one for positive solutions to the problems he is concerned about. His teachers may not be able to make substantial changes to their classroom routines to fit his needs, but it always helps to make everyone on his team aware of how he is feeling and why he is resistant to this new change.