Preparing Your Child with Autism for the New School Year

Getting ready to start the new school year can be challenging for many parents and children alike. Kids with autism and other disabilities might find the process even more overwhelming than it is for other children.

Some of the challenges that you might experience with your child with autism when it comes to transitioning to the new school year include things like sensory issues involved with going back to school, changes in routine for your child, and new expectations on your child’s behaviors. Let’s explore some recommendations for how parents can help their children with autism to prepare for the new school year to make the process easier and less stressful and even more enjoyable.

READ MORE: Types of Sensory Issues in Autism: Examples and Treatment Options

Establishing Routines

Having daily routines to follow can be beneficial for children with autism spectrum disorder. Routines help them to feel safe, know what to expect, and avoid unexpected events. Routines also help them to know what is expected of them and can prevent challenging behaviors. Routines can help prevent or minimize anxiety and frustration, as well.

When children go to school, routines are often a big part of their daily life. From daily schedules at school to after-school activities, and evening or bedtime routines, schedules often make up a core component of school-aged children’s lives. And when routines are consistent and realistic for the child, they can be helpful in many ways.

To help your child with autism prepare for the upcoming school year, it is recommended that you set up a daily routine a few weeks before school starts that your child can follow. It doesn’t have to be the complete routine your child is expected to follow while they are in school, but getting your child used to following some basic guidelines for their day will help them get accustomed to do so during the school year.

One example of how you can help your child get used to following a daily routine is having a set time and series of tasks your child should follow around lunchtime such as coming to the table at a certain time, eating the meal, and cleaning up after the meal. Another example of a way you can use routine to help prepare your child for school is to give your child one or two tasks – this could be a household chore or a worksheet or reading for 20 minutes – that the child needs to complete each day.

Setting a Wake-Up Time and Bedtime

One of the most helpful ways that you can get your child ready for school is to establish a set wake-up and bedtime routine. Kids often sleep in later during the summer and transitioning to the early wake-up times during the school year takes some adjustments. For many children, including kids with autism, this transition can lead to an increase in challenging behaviors, greater stress levels, and more difficulties for both child and parent.

To help your child adjust to an early wake-up time for school, you can plan to slowly get them used to waking up earlier and earlier beginning a few weeks before school starts. As an example, if your child tends to wake up around 11:00 am (or even if your child has a variable sleep schedule that involves going to sleep and waking up at drastically different times most days), you might decide to help your child wake up at 10:30 am for three days in a row – no matter what time they went to sleep the night before. Then, for the next three days, you’ll help your child wake up at 10:00 am. After that, you’ll help your child wake up at 9:30 am for three days, then 9:00 am for three days, and so on, until your child is waking up at the time they need to wake up for school.

To develop this plan, identify the time your child should wake up when they go to school. Allow enough time to get ready, especially if they seem low on energy and motivation. This will help avoid the stress that comes with rushing your child out of the house on time. Work backward to establish the time your child should wake up each day in the weeks approaching the start of school.

READ MORE: Supporting Healthy Sleep in Children with Autism

Collaborate with the School

Another great way for helping your child with autism prepare for the new school year is to collaborate with the school. To help make the transition to the new school year go more smoothly for your child, it is very important to try to connect with your child’s teacher, the school principal, and any support staff that will be working with your child. Discuss concerns and goals for your child. Share recommendations for things you think would help your child have a better experience at school. It will also be helpful to ask about your child’s daily schedule and how the school will handle behavioral challenges that might arise.

This will also give you the opportunity to communicate with the school about your child’s diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder. You can also ensure that your child will have the support staff they need, whether that is a one-on-one professional aid, counselor, social worker, behavior specialist, or any other service provider. Having open communication with the school is an essential part of helping your child successfully get through school.

After having these conversations before school begins, share the information with your child in a way that they understand. For instance, let them know that there will be someone helping them at all times, someone they can go to for help if they are going to be given a one-on-one aid during school. You might also discuss and even start giving your child some practice with what the daily schedule of school will look like.

Exposure to School-Related Items

It can be helpful in your efforts to prepare your child with autism for the new school year to expose them to some school-related items. For instance, have your child do one easy worksheet a day in the two weeks leading up to the start of school, possibly during a particular schedule so that they are comfortable doing activities they are expected to perform at school.

Consider involving your child in selecting, purchasing, and organizing other school items, such as a backpack, notebooks, coloring supplies, and clothing. This will help your child feel more in control of the process of going back to school and will help them feel more comfortable with the new changes.

Helping Prepare Kids with Autism for the New School Year

Although each child is different and will benefit from an individualized approach to helping them get ready to go back to school, we have provided some guidance as to strategies that are likely to help most children with autism transition and prepare for the new school year.

Additional Resources:
Summer Activities that Support Development and Well-Being of Children with Autism

Is My Child Ready to Transition from ABA to a School Environment?

Transitioning Back to School During the Pandemic: Considerations for Children on the Spectrum

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