Once you have chosen a school for your child with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), the next step will be getting your child ready to start. It is natural to have extra concerns about preparing your child for the transition to school. For instance, you might be worried about how he’ll go about learning a new set of routines and activities. However, with the right planning, you can help your child start school successfully (Raising Children Network, 2013).
Making a successful transition
Slowly introduce the things he’ll need for the school day. Getting familiar with them before starting school can help reduce anxiety about having too much change in one go. For example, you can lay your child’s school uniform and new school bag out in the open so your child can get used to seeing it.
You can also start by just driving or walking past the school on your normal trips out to other places. This will help him to see the school as part of his everyday routine. Visiting the school out of hours could be the next step. Try doing this several times so that your child gets to know the school environment.
Social stories about starting school or a visual storybook with photos of the school, classroom and new teacher can build familiarity as well. This can help your understand what to expect and what other people will expect him to do. Foreshadowing, or making a countdown calendar to the day he starts school can help cut down anxiety about when it will happen.
Practising at home before starting school school can help your child feel familiar with the new routines and activities. It can also help you spot any potential problems and find solutions, too. For example, you could practise:
- Putting her school uniform on
- Eating out of a lunch box
- Walking to school
- Wearing school shoes
- Following a visual timetable.
For many children, school uniforms might feel very different from the clothes they usually wear. The labels or the type of fabric can upset a child with sensory sensitivities. If your child practices ahead of time, you can work out a way round these sensitivities. It might be as simple as removing labels, or finding another fabric your child can wear under the uniform to reduce irritation.
It’s a good idea to make sure you and your child have everything you need well in advance to ease the stress and help it go well. Schools usually give you a comprehensive list of what your child will need, meaning you can buy – or make or borrow – it in plenty of time. You might also need to change your household routines to smooth the transition process.
The first few days at school
Starting school can be tiring and confusing for any child. You might see an increase in rigid, repetitive behaviour or maybe tantrums when you ask your child to do something. The tips below might help during the first few weeks:
- When your child gets home from school, give him half an hour to settle before starting any usual routines.
- Give your child extra time to process and respond to instructions.
- Try not to ask your child lots of questions about school.
- Use a communication book with your child’s class teacher or aide to help provide a link between school and home. This can help highlight any potential problems and solve them quickly.
- Ask for your child to be given a buddy to support him at school.
- Make sure your child knows a safe place where she can go if she feels overwhelmed. It can help if your child carries a timetable, so that an adult will know where she should be going and can help out.
- A help card is a visual reminder to your child to ask an adult for help when he needs it. A help card can help your child feel less stressed and anxious when he gets overwhelmed.
- A short, timed break during which your child can do her favourite activity or destress for a few minutes might help. If your child doesn’t speak much, a ‘break’ card that she can use when things feel overwhelming might help.
Raising Children Network (2013), Starting primary school for children with autism spectrum disorder, retrieved from http://raisingchildren.net.au/articles/autism_spectrum_disorder_starting_school.html