It’s that time of year again, time to send the kids back to school. Moving from summertime back to school can be a hard changeover for any kid, heck, if you read last weeks blog you know it is hard for me too! But ready or not, the transition is happening. Just like pretty much all transitions in life, the difficulty of change tends to be felt at a much higher level for our kids on the autism spectrum. Adding or taking away a small item in their schedule can be a big deal, so you can imagine how easy it is to change their entire day. Let’s keep in mind that going back to school looks different every year too, even if you stay at the same school; Different grade, different classroom, different teacher, maybe even different classmates. So, what can we do to ease the transition? Well luckily, our family has a few years of the back-to-school transition under our belts with Damion, so I can at least tell you what has worked for us.
1. Start Prepping Them Early, But Not TOO Early
Giving a heads up to changes is important for my guy. But through a lot of trial and error we have found that prepping him too early can be just as bad as too late. Now, fortunately school start dates are pretty set in stone once they have been announced, so its not like telling him about an event that then can get cancelled (been there, seen that meltdown). Even so, we still find that talking about something too early can continue to get him a bit worked up about the change, to the point where he can’t seem to focus on anything else. We basically went this whole summer not being able to say the word “school”. Anytime he heard that word, even in passing, he would respond with, “No, it’s summertime!” So as the “place of which we did not speak” inched closer to its start, many people asked how he was doing with the news? The answer was, we hadn’t talked about it yet. Knowing my guy, I knew that telling him the news two nights before the start was the sweet spot. We discussed his last full day of summer, and going to his open house. Then we moved into the following days schedule where he would start school. And even through you couldn’t even say the word “school” all summer long, after a little bit of talking, and one day to process, he went off to school without any big issues. Looking back a few years earlier, I may have never guessed that we could get a big transition like this to go so smooth. Your child’s time for prep may be more or less than Damion’s, unfortunately the only recommendation I have for finding this out is trial and error. But if you practice this method on small changes or events you may be able to find the perfect amount of notice for your child and be ready for the bigger transitions.
2. What can be kept the same? ASK!
Obviously, this will vary greatly depending on the school system. I do my best to keep as much open communication as I can with the staff and administration at my son’s school. Doing this along with just simple requests on my part has gone a long way. For all my sons years in preschool, we were able to keep the same teacher and always in the morning spot. When Damion was getting ready to move onto kindergarten, they said that a few of the classrooms would be participating in “looping”, meaning that the kids in those classrooms would be with the same teacher and class for two years instead of one (A program I loved and wish we could do every year!!). It was a no brainer to request Damion get to be in one of the looping classrooms, and the school happily accommodated. We have been able to keep Damion with the same speech therapist for multiple years. He will have the same intervention specialist this year as he did last year too. And one of the biggest helps is that for the past three years he has had the same class aid, who we love, and works so well with Damion. She spends a lot of time with him, so altering this position would be a very noticeable change for him. It is unlikely that they can keep the same people forever, and depending on the school’s setup, some requests are easy than others to give. But it never hurts to ask and every little bit of consistency helps.
3.Go Easy on Them
Like I said, and you’ll hear me say probably a million times in the future, change can be really hard for kids on the spectrum. So, for at least the first few days (maybe even longer) I’d suggest taking it a bit easy on the other stuff. This means avoiding introducing anything else that is new. It also means if you are able, try to make their time at home a little easier. Maybe hold off on pushing a new dinner item for them to try during feeding therapy. Relax a touch on after school schedules when possible. Lay out some after school time for their “choice” or preferred activities, whatever they may be. Let them catch their breath elsewhere while adjusting to their new days at school.
As always, I hope that you find some of these tips useful. Another way you can start the year off right is by creating an open line of communication with those working with your child at the school. Damion is verbal, but at this time cannot really participate in a full conversation. So, me asking him about the good or bad parts of his school day would not get me very far right now. Get a good start for your child and yourself by utilizing these tips, and continuing to be “in the know” throughout their school year.