This year our youngest child, who has a school diagnosis of Asperger’s Disorder, is transitioning into her first year of high school. To say we are nervous is more than an understatement! However, we have learned enough in her past 10 years of schooling to know what creates the biggest hurdles for her and what helps her to succeed.
I always joke that my best ideas are stolen. Special education staff have really helped us discover the possibilities and get creative in our thinking. Whether your child is already back in class or getting ready to return, here are some simple things we have learned to ease this challenging time of year.
9 Ways to Help Your Autistic Child Adjust to the New School Year
- Physical condition matters – While kids on the spectrum are often known to be dysregulated, they also typically thrive on structure. This means staying consistent with sleep, getting regular exercise (including a sensory diet), and healthy eating. We find that such a small thing has great impact, increasing our daughter’s ability to learn and focus, as well as giving her better reserves to cope.
- Talk about school more than once – Our kids on the spectrum have social deficits. This means that they don’t always have the ability to clearly articulate the thoughts and emotions running through their heads. As a result, we have found that having several casual conversations can draw out our child’s expectations and concerns. Asking questions and tuning in to hear what behavior is saying as well as words can really help deal with issues before they escalate. Drawing pictures can also be a way of “talking” about what is on a child’s mind.
- Politely communicate with the team before and during the new school year – Parents can be demanding and tough on educational staff. A little kindness goes a long way. Making sure that you have met everyone on your child’s team and shared with them your concerns, ideas, and expectations in a courteous way is critical to a good school year.
- Prepare a one-page summary for staff – Educational staff have dozens of IEP’s and 504’s to look through each year. If you really want effective communication and teamwork with school staff, distill your child’s educational and social needs down to a one-page summary. We have created a “Getting to know Susie” document for our children with both behavioral and medical challenges. We let them know our child’s greatest “hot spots” or difficulties as well as what works best for them, creating fast, effective problem-solving in the school setting.
- Be sensory sensitive – If you know your child has extremely sensitive hearing (like mine does), send ear plugs or noise-cancelling headphones to school to help. If your child is sensory seeking, make sure there are fidgets, a weighted blanket, bean bag chairs, or other sensory tools available to them when school starts, and so on.
- Do a walk-through prior to the start of school – Everyone feels more at ease when things are familiar. Asking teachers for your child’s schedule and having them walk the schedule before the school year is so very important. Show them where their desk and locker are, if possible. Show them where you will meet them after the school day has ended. Do this before the open house night when you can take your time and things are quiet.
- Have a designated place your child can go when feeling uneasy – Not only children on the autism spectrum, but any child with anxiety or other stressful challenges should have a spot where they can retreat when they are feeling overwhelmed. This can be a nurse’s office, a special ed room, or anywhere you and the staff agree is calming.
- Expect the best – The most commanded words in the Bible are, “Do not fear.” Not only are we disobeying God when we are full of dread about how our child will do with the upcoming school year, we also transfer that emotion to our child. If you want a positive school experience for your child, stay positive yourself.
- Trust your instincts and catch troubles early – If I could turn back the hands of time, I would have trusted my own instincts sooner when a school year was going awry. The two worst school years our family has ever had, I detected trouble within the first thirty days. Yet, I waited to speak up, and it took the entire school year to remedy problems. While we want to extend grace to staff, our children and their well-being is our first priority. Speak up early when you see that school is not going well for your child.
These ideas are simple enough for any parent to execute. I pray they will help your child quickly adjust to the new school year with minor tweaks and major strides forward.
What simple tools have you found help your child with autism adjust to school?
Sensible people will see trouble coming and avoid it,
but an unthinking person will walk right into it and regret it later.
Proverbs 22:3 GNT
Snappin’ Ministries’ Pin Board “Education for Special Kids”
Chicago Parent Magazine: 7 Ways to Help Your Child with Special Needs Start the School Year on a Positive Note
ADDitude Magazine: The IEP/504 Guide