Ann Ellison, MA, BCBA, has been serving children with disabilities and their families for more than 25 years as a counselor and Board Certified Behavior Analyst. She currently serves as the Behavior Services Coordinator at the Elizabeth Lee Black School, Barber National Institute.
Kids everywhere are enjoying their last weeks of vacation and I know many of them are looking forward to the first day of school. For some, it is a welcome return to routine. For others, it brings a series of new challenges as they face a different classroom, teacher or peers. The excitement of a new school year is something all of us can remember from childhood. Unfortunately, excitement can easily become anxiety for some kids with autism. Planning ahead for transitions can help ease the shocks, surprises and adjustments that a new school year can bring.
In the summer many of our routines relax. Days are casual and demands are few. All children need an adjustment period before the start of school. Most of us can remember going to bed early during the final few days of summer vacation in order to “adjust.” Children with autism may require extra time to accept the demands that will re-enter their lives in a few weeks. It is a good idea to start now by exposing them to a school routine one step at a time. It may be helpful to practice “working” for a few minutes a day. Doing some seated work such as puzzles or making a game out of following directions could be good preparation for returning to the classroom. Even something as simple as wearing shoes all day, every day may be an adjustment for some children. Practice wearing shoes for 30 minutes and offer some reinforcement for success. Whatever school demands might be difficult for your child to accept can be eased by gentle practice paired with positive reinforcement. Start small, build success and work up.
For students who will be going into a new environment, social stories can be a wonderful way to introduce a new building, classroom, or people. Check out this link if you’d like more information: http://thegraycenter.org/social-stories. If possible, include photos of the environments and people your child is likely to encounter. Reviewing the story every day will help a child with autism know what to expect and may help to reduce some of the anxiety associated with change. A visit to the school or a tour of the classroom may also help. A final tip is to keep the lines of communication with your child’s school team open. If you are aware of issues which may be difficult for your child, let the school team know. They may be able to support your transition efforts.
You know best what your child’s challenges are likely to be. Start now and with just a bit of planning you can ease the transition into a great school year.