With school just around the corner for many students, here is an excerpt from my book, AUTISM PARENTING: Practical Strategies for a Positive School Experience.
Part IV – The School Experience / Chapter 1, First Day of School
Just as every child on the autism spectrum is different, so is every child’s school experience. Whether your child is going to school for the first time, or returning for a new school year, her school experience will be unique. That is why it’s extremely important never to measure your child’s reactions to those of others, and to tune into your child’s emotional, sensory, physical, and cognitive issues.
School can be a positive experience for some children, and filled with anxiety for others, so you, as a parent, will want to focus on and do the best you can to take the anxiety out of going to school, so that your child will arrive in school ready, willing, and fully available to learn as much as is possible.
You may feel there isn’t much you can do to reduce the anxiety that is triggered while your child is in school. While there are options to control this later on through the IEP process, let’s first concentrate on all the things you can do about your child’s anxiety before he arrives at the school door.
To illustrate this, here is the story of a mom and dad with twin daughters on the spectrum who were entering Kindergarten. These parents wanted to make sure their girls had a positive start to their first public school experience. Always thinking ahead, and knowing that the girls are very routine oriented, they decided to drive the kids to school the first day. This was not because they had never taken the bus before, because they had been bussed to their preschool the previous year.
So, what was the reason?
It was because the girls were accustomed to the bus going a certain way to their old school. Both girls have photographic memories, and mom and dad were concerned that they might become anxious once they noticed the bus going a different route.
They deliberately drove the girls to school behind the school bus, and pointed out and explained the new route as they went. This was a great way to address possible anxieties they might have had about the bus route in a wonderful, stress-free manner.
As a result, their daughters experienced very little anxiety during the bus ride the next day, because the route the bus took did not surprise them. How clever of mom and dad was that!
This is a great example of what I encourage parents to do—to get into their child’s mind, and anticipate the hurdles that might lie ahead. Doing so can prevent many anxieties from being triggered.
So let’s start anticipating!
If you anticipate right and are on target, you will have prevented the potential for a meltdown that often puts everyone involved in an uncomfortable position.
If you guess wrong, there is no harm done, and you will have gained another piece of important information about your child.
If you will be taking your child to school and picking him up at the end of the day, here are a few strategies to put into place early on, if possible, in order to build and maintain a relationship with the teacher that will guarantee a super school year for any child:
Arrive before the bell rings.
If possible, arrive extra early at school so you can quickly share any concerns you may have with the teacher while your child finds his cubby and hangs up his school backpack.
Look for an opportunity at pick-up.
When you arrive at the end of the day to pick up your child, see if you can take a few minutes to speak to the teacher again. Briefly ask how your child adjusted to her day on a scale of one to ten.
Notice the words quickly and briefly in the two suggestions given above. Always be mindful that a teacher’s time is very precious, and it’s important to always respect that, especially on the first day of school. If you feel the need to have a lengthier conversation with the teacher, then it is best to call and make an appointment ahead of time for another time and place.
These mini conversations with the teacher are not insignificant chitchat, but will help build on and maintain the connection and relationship you hopefully have already established with the teacher before the school year started.
There is nothing more important than establishing a positive relationship with your child’s teacher. If you want your child to succeed, this is a must. When teachers see parents engaged in their child’s school experience, and that they take an interest in what happens at school, it becomes a very important ingredient in the recipe for success.
If because of work commitments you cannot speak to your child’s teacher before and after school, there are often other ways to communicate. Most schools have a website that highlights important information, and most teachers offer email access to the parents of their students. Some teachers also like to use a communication log that they send home with short updates that you can comment back on. And if nothing else, there is always the phone.
If you would like to access the Review Checklist for this Chapter to make sure you do all you can to ensure a pleasant first day experience for your child, click here.