As school starts for children in our area next week, I wanted to share with you what I have learned over the past 12 years of “first days of school.”
- If your child is entering a new school, it is helpful to set up times prior to the start of school for your child to walk through the school building and locate his or her classroom.
- Schedule an appointment with the principal to allow all of you to meet and informally talk about the upcoming year. When Ryan was transitioning to Walnut Creek Middle School, the Principal, Darcie Mosely, and the WC team went to great lengths to assure a successful start. We did walk through the school and located his classroom, locker, restrooms, etc. to allay his anxiety about being in a new school. We even had an album of photos of the staff with whom he would interact. I credit Darcie and her outstanding staff for the success Ryan experienced at Walnut Creek.
- Request a team meeting prior to the start of school. I would suggest that all the teachers who would interact with your child attend. I felt it important that not only Ryan’s classroom teacher but the ancillary staff were acquainted with Ryan and the work he was capable of doing. I provided a packet of information about autism and how it might impact his school performance. However, the most important component was a handout describing what teaching methods and behavioral strategies were most successful with him. I made sure that the team understood the importance of setting the bar high by including a sample of his best work as well as his efforts when he lacked interest in the work he was doing. I wanted to make sure they knew that he would work to the level that was expected of him.
- Count down the days to the start of school so that your child is prepared for the transition from summer fun to school days. If you changed his or her bedtime and morning routines for the summer, readjust them a week ahead of time so that your child gets used to getting up early and starting the day in a structured way.
- Plan a fun, special activity for the month of September so that your child has something to look forward to if he is highly anxious about the start of school.
- As the parent, you too have to prepare yourself for the start of school as well. You are back to the routine of early rising, preparing lunches, and the rigors of homework and projects. You may be just as anxious as your child about the start of a new school year with new teachers, new students, and new subjects. However, it is important for you to remain positive and calm, so that your child does not pick up on your anxiety.
- Autism Speaks School Community Tool Kit is an excellent resource for further information.
Starting a new school year is difficult for all children but especially for those with autism. Do you have any tips for readers and me as to what you did to help your child succeed?