Going back to school can be challenging especially after an extended holiday (even for us adults)! Here are some general tips that can be implemented for your child with autism in order to ensure a successful transition back to school.
Note: Do remember that autism is a spectrum and the following tips need to be adapted according to your child’s level of need; i.e. the tips may need to be broken down into smaller steps or made more complex. It is very important that you observe your child’s behaviour and response to the tips in order to determine if the strategies are working.
Before the holidays: Proactive Preparation
Proactive preparation by parents and professionals is very helpful to avoid a stressful transition back to school. If your child is moving grades, there are a number of transitions he or she needs to be prepared for, such as:
- A new classroom
- A new teacher
- Sometimes new classmates
- Sometimes new format of teaching
- If it is from kindergarten to primary school or from primary school to secondary school then there are even more changes to prepare your child for, e.g. different uniforms, new subjects, new learning strategies etc.
Pre-teach – Most of our kiddos may find it difficult to keep up with the academic curriculum as learning from the group at a fast pace has its own challenges. We often request for the curriculum in advance from the schools we work with so we can pre-teach basic skills over the holidays.
During the holidays: Consistency
While it is exciting to be on an extended holiday, families need to be mindful that in general, but for children with autism in particular, readjusting to a more structured school day will be difficult post-holiday. Therefore our key tip is to keep things as consistent as possible.
- Sleep Times: While it is tempting to stay up late and sleep in, many of the children we work with have various sleep challenges and disrupting regular sleep cycles over the holiday period is not worth the effort required to reset the sleep routines, especially once school (and work for you!) has started. Try having reasonably early nights and start the day bright and early with fun activities lined up!
- Routine: Keeping a flexible structure helps your child with autism cope and maximizes each day of your holiday.
- Communicate: Some holidays are busier than others, some involve travelling and staying in new places or with new people. Help your child cope better by communicating clearly through social stories and visuals. Check out our blog posts on How To Successfully Prepare Your Child With Autism For A Holiday and Preparing Your Child With Autism For A Long Flight.
- Do a bit of work daily: While it is a holiday, it is also an opportunity to catch up on previous skills that your child may need to sharpen, as well as to prepare for the skills he or she may need in the new school year. We recommend taking just a couple of hours a day to review mastered skills and in the case of school, the academic skills from the previous year, as well as pre-teach the academic concepts for the new year. While some may struggle with this concept as it is the holidays, do always remember to ask what the child with autism is doing in their free time. Evaluate if that is a meaningful and productive activity, or if it is a repetitive behaviour that is going to become strengthened and cause regression of skills that has required a lot of hard work to learn.
Towards the end of the holidays: Predictability
It is recommended to communicate to your child the length of the holiday from the start of the holiday. The use of visuals are highly effective in communicating this.
Note: do remember that as adults, we have an inbuilt consciousness of time and our calendar, and by default, we know how many days of our holiday are left. However, children with autism may not understand that, and we can prevent meltdowns at the end of the holidays if we can build a tolerance to the holiday coming to an end.
Also, start to ensure that sleep routines are back at least one week before returning to school. Start to bring out school items such as the uniforms, school bags, school books, shoes, pencil boxes and snack boxes to help with the preparation and predictability of going back to school. Using the Social Story that was prepared for the new school year will come in handy as well.
Start of school
On the morning of the first day of school (remember to sleep a little earlier than usual the night before), try waking up a little earlier to leave room for any challenges. Accompany your child to school and again give yourself some additional time to help settle your child in successfully before leaving the classroom. It also helps to give a special First Day of School After-school Snack or Treat to reinforce a successful transition back to school as well as to build a positive association with school.
We hope these tips have been helpful and that your child will have a great transition back to school! Let us know your thoughts or any questions you might have by calling us at 03-20940421 or dropping us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.