Back to School with ASD
Categories: ASD and DD, Child-focused
By Megan Joy, Ph.D.
Transitions can be difficult for students with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and other special needs. Children with special needs like familiar routines, people, and places, and may find changes to their schedules upsetting.
Returning to school after summer vacation can bring many changes: new teachers, peers, classroom environments, routines, and, sometimes, even a new school. To smooth the transition during the first few weeks of school, try to plan ahead and make every day as predictable as possible.
It is a good idea to visit your child’s school and meet his or her teacher as soon as possible. During your visit, take photographs of the school, classroom(s), teacher(s), and other important school personnel (nurse, principal, gym teacher). Using these photos, prepare a “social story” about your child’s school schedule and activities.
Social stories are helpful tools that use both words and photos or drawings to describe social situations for students with ASD. For example, a social story about going back to school might show a picture of the teacher in the classroom and include a brief sentence: “Here is my new classroom and my new teacher.” (For help creating social stories, visit http://www.thegraycenter.org/social-stories.)
Identify things about school that your child will enjoy, and talk about these frequently and enthusiastically. For example, your child may be excited about the opportunity to go to the playground, attend school with a sibling, learn more about geology, or have a classroom pet. It may also be helpful to create a special calendar that includes important school activities and events your child can look forward to during the first few months of school.
Prepare a brief document for the teacher about your child. Include a bulleted list of important information such as some of his or her favorite things and what is calming when s/he is upset. Ask the teacher to share this document with other school personnel.
Identify a known, “safe” person at school that your child can go to if s/he is upset or overwhelmed. This person could be a guidance counselor, school psychologist, or other administrator who can be available during the day. Explain to your child (and your child’s new teacher) how s/he can access that safe person (using a visual support, a pass, or simply by asking to visit the safe person).
To ensure that every school day gets off to the best possible start, make sure that your child gets a good night’s sleep, has plenty of time to get ready in the morning, and eats a healthy breakfast. Being hurried or rushed can trigger anxiety for children with ASD. Allow time to review what will happen that day, either verbally or with your calendar or a social story.
With a little advanced planning, you can help make your child’s transition back to school an enjoyable and successful experience.
Megan Joy, Ph.D., is Director of Home-based Services for May Institute in Randolph.
May Institute is a national nonprofit organization that provides educational, rehabilitative, and behavioral health services to individuals with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and other developmental disabilities, brain injury and neurobehavioral disorders, and behavioral health needs. For more information, call 800-778-7601.