Summer is winding down and back-to-school season is underway. Transitioning back into a school routine after summer vacation can be especially difficult for a child on the autism spectrum. Adjusting to multiple changes (new teacher, new room, new schedule, etc.) simultaneously can leave your child feeling anxious and overwhelmed.
Many children on the autism spectrum experience school anxiety. The school environment, social challenges, and sensory overload all combine to make school a confusing and often unpleasant place for kids on the spectrum. If your child has just enjoyed a nice extended break from school and its various stressors, the prospect of returning may be met with quite a bit of resistance. Transitions are notoriously difficult for kids on the spectrum and returning to school after a long break may be one of the most challenging transitions there is.
Whether your child is dreading the return to school, or looking forward to it, you’ll benefit from planning, being prepared, and keeping your child’s transition needs top of mind. Understanding how your child adjusts to change will help you decide how far in advance you need to begin the process. As that time approaches, consider the following “back to school” transition tips.
Set the tone. Be positive when discussing your child’s return to school. If your child feels ambivalent or worse, emphasize the return to activities he does enjoy (e.g. science club, sports, or music).
Keep communication open. Bring the family together several weeks before school starts to discuss and plan for the transition.
Involve your child. Have your child participate in the planning and purchasing of school supplies, as well as other preparations. Ownership in the process will provide her with a sense of control, which can help reduce anxiety.
Adjust to the school schedule in advance. Make changes to your child’s daily routines, such as bedtime, well before school starts. Ease into any new adjustment in small increments.
Get screen time under control. Most kids on the spectrum love their screen time, and it may have expanded considerably during the school break. Begin to bring media privileges in line at least two weeks prior to the start of school. Establish TV, computer, and video game use rules and stick to them.
Brush up on reading skills. Reading skills are key to any child’s school success and extremely important to maintain. Daily reading practice will give your child a boost prior to returning to school.
Establish a connection with your child’s teacher. Contact the school and make an appointment to meet with your child’s new teacher. Getting this transition out of the way prior to the start of school (with no interruptions or other students around) can be very beneficial. Providing your child with the opportunity to review schedules and expectations, as well as ask questions, can go a long way in reducing anxiety and setting him up for success.
Acknowledging the anxiety and having a back to school plan in place will help your child (and you!) transition back into the school routine as smoothly as possible.
What have you found helpful in reducing your child’s school anxiety? Got any transition tips to share? Chime in via the comments!