Preparing a child for school may be a lot for any parent, but when you’re the parent of a child with Autism Spectrum Disorder, you may experience not so common challenges such as sensory and routine related issues, and you may be unsure about where to begin the process. Here are 7 ways that you can prepare your child for starting school.
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.
Two of BCOTB’s programs, School Readiness Program and School Success Program, focus on teaching children the skills they need to succeed in school. Each child receives instruction 1 on 1 in addition to in a group environment that is designed to mimic the routines at school such as circle time, centers, and table work. These programs are designed to maximize your child’s potential to participate in a mainstream classroom.
Meet with the teachers and support staff at your child’s school:
Meeting with the support staff and teachers of your child’s new school will give you the opportunity to ask and get answers to any questions that you may have, and it will help you to get familiar with the people who will play a huge role in your child’s learning experience. This time can be used for you to express the needs/goals of your child and will also give you the chance to help familiarize the teachers and support staff with the skill set and communication method of your child so that they can be of better assistance to your child.
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 with 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.
Expose your child to new clothing, backpacks or any other school related materials:
It’s common for children with Autism Spectrum Disorder to have sensory related issues when it comes to wearing certain types of clothing material, colors, etc., so to help prepare your child for school, you should begin to expose your child to the new clothing that they may have to wear while in school, new backpacks or lunchboxes that they may have to carry, or any other materials that may be new and scary, ahead of time so that when they begin school they’ll already be used to and loving all of their new things. BCOTB can assist with desensitization programs to help your child tolerate different stimuli and situations.
Have materials prepared ahead of time:
Transitions alone can sometimes be hard on children with Autism Spectrum Disorder so having uniforms/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.
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.