Back to school tips for students with autism and their families

Finding ways to help transition from summer to school routines

Summit School's students, families and staff are already in a different mindset than others preparing for the new school year. We know that getting ready for school involves more than school supplies and new sneakers.

As the big change from summer routines to school schedules looms, here's a compilation of some of our favorite expert tips to help your family ease the back to school transition.

Reset Bedtime and Morning Routines

Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder often have issues adjusting to changes in their routines. As the beginning of the school year approaches, slowly start to introduce school related routines such as sleep and eating patterns, transitions, and school related activities into your child’s schedule. Doing so will allow your child to get comfortable with the new changes prior to starting school. You can do this by introducing new bed and wake up times, daily meal schedules and activities that they may come across while in school. Doing things outside of your normal routine can also help your child adjust to sudden changes. Introducing visual aids such as a visual schedule can be helpful as well.

Find Visual Tools to Ease Anxiety

Consider setting up a visual schedule or a reminder strip to provide visual cues for daily routines. Kids with autism often find it difficult to understand and follow instructions, which can make the routines, especially the morning ones, difficult. Include photos showing how to do things like putting on a backpack. You can also stage a backpack near the front door as a visual reminder that school is starting soon.

If your child is in high school, consider creating a color-coding system to help keep your child organized and differentiate subject matter.

Expose Your Child to Social Settings

Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder sometimes struggle with social skills and can have very little interest in social interactions, so exposing your child to different social settings before they begin school will help them to get used to being around and/or interacting with peers while at school. You can do this by taking your child to a local park or setting up play dates so that your child will find interacting with peers less frightening and more fun. Prior to the beginning of the school year, taking your child to their new school or showing them pictures of the inside of the school can also be helpful.

Social Stories for Older Kiddos

For older kiddos, reading/creating social stories can help to ease any peer related fears. Reading and exposing your child to such stories can make beginning school and peers less frightening and can even spark up an interest in school. You can also tell your child about some of your childhood school memories and how much you yourself enjoyed school to help build up the excitement of starting school. Reading social stories can also be a stepping stone to teaching your child how to appropriately interact with peers so that they can make friends at school.

Have Materials Prepared Ahead of Time

Transitions alone can sometimes be hard on children with Autism Spectrum Disorder so having clothing and lunches/snacks prepared ahead of time will help make the transition to school easier on yourself and your child. Take a day out of your week to meal prep, prepare lunches/snacks and organize daily uniforms so that when it’s time to wake your child for school, it’s an easy transition from your home and to the school. Preparing materials ahead of time will also allow you to have extra time to comfort your child during what may be a scary time.

Prepare Yourself

It’s important that you prepare yourself, as well as your child, for the process of beginning school. Take time to gather your own thoughts and feelings so that you are prepared to help your child during the process. Talk to other parents who are, too, getting their child/children ready for their first school experience so that you won’t feel alone. Children can sometimes sense when their parents are stressed, so the less stressed you are, the better.

Communicate with Your Child's Team

Summit School provides a team of professionals to work with your family as part of your child's entire support team. Our goal is to provide the tools your child needs to make the first day and every day of school a positive, successful growth opportunity.

Suggestions compiled from the following websites. If your child will be mainstreaming for part of the upcoming school year, you may find additional tips in these articles helpful.