Do you really know how your child feels about going back to school this year? Maybe last year was a positive experience but can you really assume this will be another carbon copy? Many children, even those without an Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), can harbor secret worries and concerns they can't seem to express which can then develop into troubling and difficult behaviors.
If you think back to your first days of a new school year, what comes to mind? Along with the excitement of wearing that new outfit and seeing your good friend again what were the concerns you carried with you?
Is your special needs child looking forward to going back to school? Despite your sensory sensitive daughter's interest in school could she be worrying about new school building she has to go to? Is it possible your son with Asperger's might have a concern about the school bus ride or eating in the cafeteria? If so, what can be done to alleviate their fears?
Starting early to prepare your child for a new school year is important in order to get them off to a good start. Going shopping for school clothes is a given but there is so much more to getting ready for school than shopping for new outfits and back-to-school supplies. Being prepared with pens, pencils, pads of paper and the backpack to put it all in, as well as the proper equipment for sports and the new sneakers for physical education class is all important, but what about the rest?
For school to be a pleasant and successful experience for your child with Autism being prepared means so much more than acquiring the material possessions that are required.
Retuning to school, even if in the same school building, can be filled with worries such as making new friends or what your new teacher will be like but for a child with Autism, the anxieties can be much bigger than that. Helping your child transition with ease into a new school year to ensure an experience that will keep a smile on her face requires mental, emotional, cognitive and social preparation as well.
Taking from your own experience and knowing what you know about your child what are some things you can do to:
- Mentally prepare your child for school? Putting the date when school will begin on the family calendar or creating a special one for your son will help him make a mental note for when his summer routine will change. Spending time identifying things that will be a novel experience for your child is another productive exercise. If your child is to ride the bus for the first time, you may want to contact the school/bus driver to schedule a time to meet him or her and arrange for a school bus tour.
- Emotionally prepare your child for school? Asking your daughter to express her worries and concerns about school would be the simplest way to approach this but this is not always possible. Young children who have difficulty communicating and expressing themselves require a different tactic. Sometimes all we can do is anticipate what the anxieties might be based on good detective work. If you sense your child is worried that her new teacher will not understand her unique way of relating, make an appointment for them to meet before school starts.
- Cognitively prepare your child for school? Keeping up with reading is one of the best things any parent can do to keep their child's mind fresh and ready to learn. 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 him/her a boost. Kill two birds with one stone by creating a social story about school - you can address his anxieties and increase reading time all in one.
- Socially prepare your child for school? If possible, invite old or new classmates that may have moved into the school system and invite them over so your child can get to know them better and practice her social graces. It can help your child immensely if you rehearse back to school conversation starters and group social skills with them to use with their friends, teachers and other adults.
All in all, there are many things you can do as a parent to fully prepare your child and reduce the risk of tantrum-like behaviors or emotional meltdowns when school time rolls around.
Connie Hammer, MSW, parent educator, consultant and coach, guides parents of young children recently diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder to uncover abilities and change possibilities. For more information about covering all the bases for achieving a back-to-school peace of mind that is priceless go to http://parentcoachingforautism.com/products/back-to-school