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Helping Your Autistic Child Thrive: Tips for a Smooth Start to the School Year

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As a parent, you undoubtedly know the start of a new school year can be an exciting but also nerve-wracking time, particularly if your child is on the autism spectrum. Autistic students often struggle with change, and a new school year represents a series of changes: new teachers, new routines, new classmates, and maybe even a new school. However, with careful planning, compassionate understanding, and open communication, you can help your child start the year off smoothly and comfortably.  

Here are some strategies to make the transition as easy as possible. 

1. Prepare Ahead of Time

Gradual introduction to changes can help ease anxiety. Talk about the new school year a few weeks ahead, discussing changes and new routines. Share pictures of the new teacher or classroom if available. Practice the new routine at home, including waking up, dressing, and eating breakfast on a school-like schedule. Visit the school before classes start if it’s allowed, especially if it’s a new environment for your child(Ask the school well in advance so they can schedule this visit with your child’s teacher a day or two before school starts.) 

2. Use Visual Supports

Visual aids can be incredibly helpful for many children on the spectrum. Visual schedules, social stories, or visual cues can help them understand and prepare for the upcoming changes. A visual schedule could include pictures or icons representing different activities throughout the school day. Social stories can help explain and normalize new situations and expectations. (My book Emily D. and the Fearful First Day is an example of a start of school social story.) 

3. Establish a Consistent Routine

Routine is very important for autistic children as it provides a sense of security and helps them understand what to expect. Establishing a predictable routine for school days can help reduce anxiety and promote calmness. This includes consistent wake-up times, meal times, homework times, and bedtimesIf possible, ask the school for your child’s weekly school schedule so that they can review it in advance.  

4. Open Communication with School

Building a strong relationship with your child’s teachers and school staff is crucial. Share specific details about your child’s needs, triggers, coping mechanisms, and what techniques work best for them. Additionally, keep communication lines open throughout the year. Regular check-ins will help you stay updated on your child’s progress and address any issues promptlyRemember, you can ask for a check in with your child’s team even if it is not a formal PPT. 

5. Equip Your Child with Coping Mechanisms

Every child with autism is unique and has different coping mechanisms. Equip your child with stress management strategies that they can use in school. This could be a small sensory toy they can keep in their backpack, specific self-soothing techniques, or a script they can use when they need to ask for help or a breakAsk your child’s teacher if they can keep a small box of fidget/sensory toys that are available for your child. 

6. Celebrate Achievements

Starting a new school year is a big step for every child, particularly for autistic children. Be sure to acknowledge their efforts and celebrate their achievements, no matter how small. This will help boost their confidence and make them look forward to schoolBut remember, it may not be important to take a photo of them in front of the school on the first dayKnow your child and what will work for them. 

7. Encourage Social Interaction

School is not just about academics. It’s also a place to learn social skills and make friends. Encourage your child to engage with their peers in ways that they’re comfortable with. Role-play scenarios can help them prepare for social situations. If possible, arrange playdates with a couple of their classmates before the school year startsTalk to the school about seating assignments at lunch and planned activities at recess.  

8. Be Patient and Positive

Remember, every child adjusts at their own pace. Stay patient and maintain a positive attitude. Your support and reassurance will help your child face any challenges that come their way. 

 

Every autistic child is unique, and what works well for one might not work as well for another. Be prepared to adjust and adapt these tips as needed based on your child’s specific needs and responses. Ultimately, the goal is to create a supportive and understanding environment that helps your child feel comfortable, confident, and ready to take on the new school year. 

Sivan Hong

Sivan Hong

Instagram: @sivan_hong_author
Website: https://sivanhong.com
Language: English

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