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The 2020/2021 school year has been difficult for parents, students, and teachers with all of the challenges that we have faced with the pandemic. The 2021/2022 school year has arrived with a brand new set of challenges for families who have school aged children. The challenges are even greater for children who have special needs.
Many students with disabilities, learning deficits, and those on the autism spectrum struggled tremendously during the lockdown that started in March of 2020. Distance learning was an experience that K-12 students had never been exposed to prior to the lockdown. Distance education takes an extraordinary amount of self discipline and self management as a student to study and learn effectively. This is not a skill that most young students have in their arsenal, and when it comes to the needs of those students who have deficits it can prove nearly impossible.
Why School Is So Challenging for Children With Autism
Autism spectrum disorders present some unique challenges for students and the adults in their immediate circle. The challenges can be related to sensory issues, emotional issues like anxiety or depression, communication issues, social skills deficits, and attention deficits.
School can be a frightening place for students on the spectrum, and the transition back to the school setting after feeling safe and comfortable at home after these long months can make the transition even more daunting.
Just try to imagine how it might feel if you don’t like crowds. Going back to school requires that a student with autism leave a quiet sanctuary at home and enter a building with dozens and perhaps a few hundred students all swirling around one another in a confined space. The voices, the echoes, and even the visual stimuli that accompanies all of this busy-ness can cause major distress for a child with autism. With the many challenges that children with autism face, it is important to know what you can do to make the return to school easier for your child and you. There are a lot of things that you can do to prepare your student for that transition from home to school. Whether it be a return to school after a summer break or a longer break like the one that we all endured during the pandemic lockdown, preparation is key.
6 Helpful Tips to Prepare for Going Back to School
One of the first things that you should do as a parent is to sit down and communicate with your child. Communication is important on so many levels. For one, it facilitates a two way dialogue with your child which is important in teaching communication skills. In addition to creating a dialogue, it also provides an opportunity to prepare your child for what he/she might experience in the first few days or weeks of his/her return to school. Use this time to address any fears that your child may have and talk about various ways to respond to situations that they might encounter. For example, your child might express a fear of not knowing anyone. You might take this opportunity to role play and demonstrate how to introduce yourself and ask someone else their name.
2. Visit the school if possible.
Many schools have an open house before school starts. This provides an opportunity to walk around and see the school and find all of the classrooms and meet teachers. If your child has never been on campus this is a fantastic way to familiarize your child with the environment and help him/her feel comfortable with his/her surroundings and the people that he/she will see on a daily basis.
3. Make a schedule.
Create a visual schedule that your child can keep with him/her in his/her folder or backpack. With elementary school children this is far less complicated, but for middle school and high school students it is important to discuss and maybe even rehearse their schedule with a “walk through” so that they have some sense of what each day and each week might look like. For high school, this can get a bit complex for students with autism. They might have rotating schedules each week. For this reason it’s important to review the schedule daily and weekly with your student to teach and remind them of what to expect.
4. Talk about the scary parts.
Talk about items that might make your child feel uncomfortable or scared. Fire drills, hard lockdowns, and even lining up for an assembly can cause a disruption in the routine that your child depends on to get through the day. Explain to your child that they may have days when they need to learn to be a little flexible in their daily routine. The best way to do that is to discuss the possibilities and scenarios with them. Let them know that each day will generally look the same, but there will be those days when there are important events that need to happen that will temporarily change their schedule. Consider using social stories here to walk through different scenarios in a way they can understand. Assure them that their schedule will return to normal and that there are adults available to help them if they aren’t sure what to do.
5. Make connections at school.
One of the best things that you can do is to create positive working relationships with the staff at your child’s school. Volunteer if you have to. Having a connection from home to school is key to making sure that your child’s needs are met. Express your willingness and your desire to teachers and school staff to communicate frequently and work through any concerns that may surface. At the end of the day, you are best suited to advocate for your child and their needs in the classroom.
6. Prepare for sensory issues.
Headphones to reduce distracting noises, fidgets and stress balls to soothe them and alleviate anxiety or “break cards” that your child can present to a teacher to escape an overwhelming environment for a few minutes can be helpful. Plan ahead with your child and their teacher(s) for possible triggers that can disrupt your child’s school day and solutions to resolve any of these disruptions.
Here’s the Bottom Line
The best thing that you can do for your child with autism is to prepare. Preparation is everything when it comes to children on the autism spectrum. The more information that children with autism have before they enter any new situation, the better they will do. The more information that your child’s teacher has about them will also help for a successful transition back to school as well.
If your child needs additional help beyond the available staff and resources at their school, there are many kinds of therapy available for children with autism. ABA therapy is often used to help children learn social skills and adjust to new surroundings. If you’re looking for help outside of resources at your school, consider ABA therapy for your child. ABA therapy is a successful approach to teaching behavioral and social skills that help your child in any environment.
Circle Care Services in New Jersey provides ABA therapy to hundreds of families. We can help you and your family with a successful transition back to school and equip you and your child with behavioral and social skills that will serve them for the rest of their lives. Call us for a consultation today.Read More