Even though you may feel as if you just settled into your summer routine, it is time to start the transition back to school. Heading back to the classroom can be stressful for both parents and children; however, adding a little structure into everyone’s routine can decrease stress and prepare everyone for a successful school year. Below are some simple solutions that can help you and your child start the school year off on the right foot.
Utilize a Calendar
To help your child adjust to school again, start by highlighting a calendar to show your child when school starts. Then begin to gradually adjust bedtime and wake-up times to mimic the school schedule. Even if your child wakes up, gets dressed and falls asleep again, the rehearsal of the morning routine is a step in the right direction. Try to plan lunch at the same time your child will be eating at school. As your child’s body physically adjusts, his/her emotional adjustment should be easier. He or she will need at least a week to readjust, so plan accordingly.
Limit Changes to Your Child’s Wardrobe
Back to school shopping can be a huge ordeal for many kids with special needs. If you know what they like to wear, it may be easier to shop without them. Keep in mind fabric texture, color, sleeve/pant length and tag removal. Shopping online so that your child can see pictures of clothing may be helpful. New clothing should not be pushed if it is going to be an issue—a happier child in older clothing is a better choice. In fact, any new clothing should be laundered at least once to help soften it.
Don’t Wait to the Last Minute for Personal Care
Getting a haircut several days or more before the start of school is recommended, especially if it takes more than one day to get the job done.
Nail care is another challenging grooming task for many of our students. Using a nail file or nail scissor will take longer, but may be better tolerated. As described in a blog written by an adult with autism, the pressure on the nail when a nail clipper was used, and the anticipation of the aversive sound that the clipper made, always made it an unbearable event for her. Once her parent began using nail scissors, she was much happier.
Prepare in Advance
Getting as much done the night before will help lessen the morning stress. By preparing lunch the night before you will be free to tackle any other challenges that may occur. Furthermore, create a morning routine using a numbered picture schedule. For example, (1) Use toilet (2) wash hands and face (3) brush teeth (4) get dressed (5) put on shoes (6) brush/comb hair (7) eat breakfast (8) pack lunch (9) get backpack/jacket (10) kiss/hug goodbye.
Use a checklist that you and your child can check off as you go through the morning routine.
Be Fully Present with Your Child.
It’s incredibly difficult for children on the autism spectrum to filter out external sounds, smells, and noises, so limit distractions as much as possible. Keep the TV off during the morning rush. Keep your phone off, or at least silent, and don’t take any calls while you’re trying to assist your child with his or her morning routine. Practice being fully present with your child, even during times when you’re in a rush to get out the door. Kids with autism may not initiate engagement, but that doesn’t mean they want to be ignored.
Restrict or Eliminate Morning Television.
The television is just another stimulus that can distract your child. Try playing soft, calm music, such as Enya or purchasing a sound machine with soothing natural sounds. If you feel your child will have a meltdown without some television/video, use a limited amount as a reinforcer/reward once your child is all ready for school.
Take Care of Yourself
This is the key to success. Waking up 15 minutes before your child to enjoy a cup of coffee/tea, may give you the energy you need to help your child get off to a good start. In addition, going to sleep at a reasonable hour and getting quality rest is absolutely crucial for your mental and physical health.
Living with a child who has special needs can be overwhelming. Back to school is an adjustment for everyone, especially caregivers. Hope can be maintained if you are optimistic. If you look for strengths then you will see what is possible and perhaps you might see something that wasn’t there before…a new skill, or interest, a new friendship, or a different smile.
Back to School for Children with Autism by Dr. Peter Faustino
Top 10 Tips “Getting Ready for School” from Autism File Readers, 2012
Back to School Tips for Children With Autism by Bronwyn Matthews (2009); Voices.yahoo.com