The start to a new school year can be riddled with anxiety for any child. When you think of your first days at school, I’m sure your memories are mixed with some years having a better start to the school year then others.
Going to a new school or having a new teacher in the same building can be cause for worry even among the most confident of kids. But when you have a child with an Autism Spectrum Disorder their concerns are usually bigger than this. Be it a fear that the teacher will not understand them and their unique way of relating to the world or a sensory sensitivity to noise and a fear of crowds in the hallway or an apprehension about the bus ride, there are many things about school that can negatively impact a child with autism.
And let’s not forget the social scene!
“Will I fit in and make a friend this year or will I be bullied?” is often a question that looms in the minds of children as they begin a new school year.
Many children on the autism spectrum appear to enjoy being by themselves but don’t let that fool you. Most children desperately want to mingle and socialize, they just don’t fully understand the social rules. They long to be socially accepted yet need to be taught the social skills necessary to develop friendships.
And then there is the well-known fact that children with autism do not like change and often resist transitions if they are not presented in the best manner possible.
Unfortunately, all these anxieties can cause many parents to end up spending valuable time battling with their child about school related issues but it does not have to be that way. The best approach is to address any possible anxiety before it begins to fester in order to easily manage your child’s actions and behaviors.
On the other hand, there are a few children who actually look forward to going back to school and transition well despite having to adjust to another new schedule. Regardless of the category your child falls into, planning ahead, being prepared and knowing your child will help guarantee a smooth start to the year.
Understanding how your child adjusts to change will help you decide how soon you need to begin the process. As that time approaches, here are some tips to keep in mind:
- Know your child. Take time to create a realistic picture in your mind of what your child is facing and how he or she might be feeling. Entering into and understanding your child’s world helps you plan, prepare and respond more effectively thus making it easier on everyone.
- Communicate as a family. Hold a family meeting weeks before school starts to discuss and plan for the transition. If you’ve never held a family meeting before this is a great time to start.
- Avoid sudden changes. Make scheduling adjustments to daily routines, such as bedtime, well in advance. Ease into any new adjustment by starting with small increments of time until you arrive at the desired place.
- Go on a screen machine diet. Begin to curtail screen machine privileges at least two weeks prior to the start of school. Establish TV, video and computer use rules and stick to them.
- Schedule a visit. If your child is anxious about the new school year contact the school and make an appointment to visit and meet with the new teacher. The opportunity to go over schedules and expectations as well as the chance to ask questions without other students around can provide any child a great sense of relief.
- Involve your child. Depending on your child’s developmental ability, engage him in school related decisions as much as possible, even if it’s the simple task of shopping for school supplies. Make a list of school supplies together, estimate a budget, and shop within it using some, or all, of your child’s own money. Doing so will provide him with a sense of ownership and control.
- Continue reading. Increase trips to the library or start now if you haven’t been yet. Reading is key to any child’s school success and extremely important to maintain. Daily reading with your child will give her a boost.
Parents of children with autism who are showing signs of anxiety about returning to school can receive extra support and ideas for making the transition more manageable by visiting here.