Posted by Kelley Prince, M.A., BCBA, President of Behavioral Consulting of Tampa Bay, Inc.
As the summer winds down, it is time to start thinking about getting our children prepared to return to school. This is a difficult and challenging task for most families but, if you have a child with autism, heading back to school can be an anxiety-provoking transition. In order to make it a more pleasurable experience for your entire family, I have developed a few helpful hints to ease this transition.
TELL ME YOUR STORY
First, it would be helpful to take pictures of the teacher, classroom and school in order to develop a social story for your child. A social story is a short story that describes a situation, from the perspective of the child, and defines the appropriate behavioral responses within that situation. The goal of a social story is to improve a child’s understanding of events and expectations, which tends to improve their behavior when placed in that environment. For example, a back-to- school social story may include a statement such as, “On Monday, I will be in a new classroom with Mrs. Smith. She is a very nice teacher and I will like her.” This sentence can be accompanied by a picture of Mrs. Smith and can be read to the child several days prior to the return to school.
GET A ROUTINE
Another way to prepare your child with autism to return to school is to begin getting them back on their “school” sleep and feeding routine. This includes gradually fading back their bedtime beginning at least 1 week prior to the return to school. It would also be helpful to begin eating meals and snacks at the same time that the child would engage in these activities if school were in session.
LET’S GO SHOPPING
Since back-to-school time typically involves shopping for new clothes, it is important to remember that many children with autism also have characteristics of sensory integration disorder. Therefore, some of our children may be irritated by certain textures of clothing or by clothing tags. Therefore, it is important to understand these sensitivities prior to shopping for new clothing.
IT’S ALL ABOUT ME
Finally, since our children can be very complex individuals with a long medical and therapeutic history, it may be helpful to develop an “All About Me” book that can be shared with the teaching staff. The book can include items such as the child’s strengths, weaknesses, their communication level, toileting schedule and abilities, behavior plans, dietary needs, allergies, preferences, and fears. This will allow the teachers to get to know your child and to adjust the teaching environment to accommodate his/her needs.
If you follow a few of these suggestions, the transition from the lazy days of summer to the hustle and bustle of the school year will be smoother for your child and your family. If you have any suggestions on future blogs, feel free to leave a comment below. Thank you for your interest!