As parents of children with autism, you know that the transition back to school can be difficult. The changes in environment and expectations can cause anxiety and fear, which may lead to meltdowns or other disruptive behaviors. While there is no one-size-fits-all way of getting your autistic child ready for school, you can take a few measures to ensure their successful transition. From adjusting routines to creating visual guides, this article offers practical ways for you to help support your child as they get prepared for the upcoming school year!

Preparing for elementary school

The transition to elementary school can be a challenging time for young children. If your child didn’t attend kindergarten, this may be their first experience being away from you all day. To help your child adjust, here are some practical tips.

Adjust sleep and wake times

Waking up earlier than usual is hard for everyone. Start adjusting your child’s bedtimes by 30 or 45 minutes a week before school starts. Remember to reward them for getting out of bed on time!

Create a visual schedule

If your child has trouble following instructions, try creating a visual schedule. This simple sheet can outline the tasks they must do every morning, from brushing their teeth to waiting for the bus. It’s a fantastic way to promote independence and confidence.

Dr. Connie Kasari, an autism specialist and professor of Human Development and Psychology at the University of California Los Angeles, told Johnson & Johnson, “This teaches kids as young as 5 the importance of self-reliance. They can look at the schedule and figure out what’s next all by themselves.”

Partner with teachers

Before school starts, try arranging a meeting between your child and their teacher. This way, they will know who will guide them through the day. Stay in close communication with teachers to address any issues that might arise and work together as a team. Developing action plans for overstimulation or unexpected events can also be incredibly beneficial.

Preparing for middle school

Your child will gain more independence and responsibility as they enter middle school. However, they still need your guidance in navigating this new environment. Middle school can be busier and more involved than elementary, but with these helpful tips, your child can make a smooth transition.

Visit the new school before the first day

To ease anxieties and get your child comfortable with the routine, visit the school with your child before the academic year begins. Familiarize yourselves with their classrooms, locker, and important areas like the gym and cafeteria. If you have your child’s schedule, you can go through their day step-by-step.

Create a visual guide

If your child is a visual learner, consider making a photo album or scrapbook as a helpful reference for the school. Include pictures of key locations like the cafeteria, classrooms, gym and locker rooms and a school map. Remember to add photos of staff members who can provide assistance, such as administrators, resource officers and coaches.

Check-in with educators via app

As your child gains independence, you may communicate less with their teachers than in elementary school. Many schools utilize apps like ParentSquare or ClassDojo to facilitate interaction between parents and teachers. Through these apps, you can send and receive photos and texts throughout the day, ensuring you’re still involved while respecting your child’s growing autonomy.

Preparing for high school

High school is a significant time in your child’s life, as it equips them with the skills they need to transition into adulthood. And for autistic children, this is also the perfect time to start planning for life after college.

Register for extracurricular activities

Public high schools are required to provide a variety of extracurricular activities such as clubs and sports. These activities offer opportunities for your child to make friends, help boost their confidence and develop essential life skills. If your child needs extra support to participate, don’t hesitate to inform the school.

Practice hygiene and self-care

As bodies change during the adolescent and teenage years, it is important that kids know the importance of hygiene and self-care.

Help your child by offering a range of products with different textures and fragrances and providing clear instructions on how to use them. Creating a self-care book with step-by-step instructions and photos can also be beneficial. Consider tools that work best for your child’s comfort, such as opting for a cartridge razor instead of an electric one if the noise is unsettling.

Think about future plans

Research has shown that autistic high school students face unique challenges regarding post-high school opportunities. A 2012 study published in the American Academy of Pediatrics Journal shared that in their first six years after high school, 34.7% of autistic youth attended college, and 55.1% held a job.

While college might not be the right path for every autistic teenager, if your child is interested in pursuing higher education, start preparing early. Consult with guidance counselors and teachers to ensure their graduation requirements are on track and explore post-graduation options. For standardized tests like the ACT and SAT, consider early preparation and securing accommodations from The College Board and ACT.

In conclusion, the transition back to school for autistic children can be challenging yet full of exciting opportunities and possibilities. Regardless of what stage your child is in – Elementary, Middle or High School – there are several ways you can ease their tension and help them better acclimate to the new learning environment.

If you’re interested in ABA services to provide support and help your child gain valuable skills, contact your local Maxim Healthcare Services office. We’re always here to assist when needed!