Summertime is almost over, and our school-aged learners will soon be filing into classrooms—a familiar routine for some and for others, the first time! Whether your learner has been in school before or this is their first time, BCOTB is here to offer some helpful back-to-school tips to help make the transition back to school an easy one for all those involved.
The Nebraska Autism Spectrum Disorders Network notes that, “many students with autism rely on rules and routines to keep their environment predictable and, therefore, feel safer… Application of rules and routines in school and home helps students with autism engage more successfully in activities and prevents problem behavior… When students know routines, they can perform daily activities more quickly.” When we talk about school, especially to our first-time students, there are several new things that can make any student uncomfortable: new teachers, new strangers, different peers, new smells, no parents to run to when they feel overwhelmed, new expectations, etc. All these factors added into their day without warning or clarification can lead to challenging behaviors such as whining, crying, task refusal, aggression, bolting, etc. Even for myself as an adult, I prefer to know what my plans are, what my day will look like, when my plans change, why they have changed, and what is going to happen instead!
The following ideas are some tried-and-true tips for helping your child be prepared for the first day of school and for the upcoming changes in their daily lives:
- 1. Go to your Open House! – Take advantage of open house nights. These nights not only allow you, as a caregiver, to explore your learners classrooms and meet their teachers, but it also allows your learner to become familiar with new faces (e.g., teachers, peers, administrators, other parents), new environments (e.g., classroom, cafeteria, playground, etc.), and sometimes, even new smells.
- 2. If offered, do a classroom walkthrough – Have you ever started a new job, and everyone expected you to know where everything was, or your supervisor expected you to “just figure it out?” This caused me anxiety as an adult in my early 20s working at the mall, so imagine how it feels for our kiddos who are experiencing this. Classroom walkthroughs are incredible and a great resource to use before the first day of school. This will allow your learner to understand what to expect of their environment—where to sit for independent work, where to sit for group activities, where to put their belongings, where they can go for free time, etc.
- 3. Use a social story – Social stories are individualized short stories made specifically for your learner, which depict a social situation that he or she may encounter. These are especially helpful if read several times leading up to a specific event, such as the first day of school. According to Special Learning Inc., “[social stories] are used to teach communal skills by giving precise and sequential inform about every day events that your child may find difficult or confusing, thus preventing further anxiety on the part of your child.” You may use these for situations such as going to school for the first time, going to speech or occupational therapy for the first time, going school shopping and facing the many choices they will have to make, meeting new people, saying goodbye to familiar people, etc. Social stories include the following information and you can write one with your learner or you may ask your learner’s BCBA to create one for you:
- a. Descriptive sentences – The “why” details are emphasized, making it easy for your learner to recognize when the situation actually occurs. For example, “The car circle can be a loud and busy place.”
- b. Directive sentences – These are instructions about how your child should appropriately respond to a specific situation. For example, “If it becomes too loud waiting for mom and dad in the car circle, I will tell a grown-up.”
- c. Perspective sentences – These should describe one of your child’s possible responses or feelings to a given situation. For example, “I might not like how many people are around me or how long I will have to wait.”
- d. Affirmative sentences – These sentences state a common value or opinion. You can emphasize a rule that your learner should understand. For example, “It is okay for me to feel frustrated when I am waiting.”
- e. Control sentences – These are actions or responses that your child has decided on to help them remember the strategies that work for them. For example, “If it gets too loud, I can put on my headphones that I have in my backpack.”
- f. Cooperative sentences – These describe the actions or possible help of the people around your learner based on his or her response to the situation. For example, “My teacher knows that if I have my headphones on, she should come check on me.”
- 4. Create a visual schedule – As our learners go back to school, their entire day will change. They may go from a less structured summer routine visiting with friends and family, staying up a little later, and waking up later, to a very structured routine at home with getting up earlier, a dressing routine, and even some homework. According to the Department of Educational Psychology at the University of Utah, “visual schedules are an intervention that can help individuals with autism follow a routine, transition between activities, develop new skills, and reduce dependence on caretakers when completing daily activities.” Visual schedules include a series of photos, symbols, and text that depict the activities to sequentially occur during the day, which need to be completed. Visit the following link for some examples of visual schedules for your child (Pinterest has everything): https://www.pinterest.com/pin/86412886589486398/
Once again, as summer ends and a new school year begins, BCOTB is here to help with your learner’s transition to school and become accustomed to their new routines. Along with going to open houses and walking through classrooms and campuses ahead of time, using social stories and visual schedules are reliable tools used in ABA and across our clinics to help our learners reduce their anxiety about new and unfamiliar situations, keep them focused, and reduce challenging behaviors. We hope that our caregivers use these resources to make the 2021-2022 school year a happy, stress-free, exciting, and successful one! Happy learning!
**BCOTB has been Tampa’s leading provider of pediatric ABA therapy since 2003. With four clinic locations throughout the Tampa Bay area, we know that our clinic is the right spot for your early learner! BCOTB specializes in in-clinic Pediatric ABA Therapy for children with Autism and related disorders from birth to ten years of age. BCOTB accepts most major insurances, including, but not limited to: Aetna, Anthem, Baycare, Beacon, BCBS, Cigna, CMS, Florida Blue, Humana, MHNet, Meritain Health, Magella Health, UnitedHealthcare, and TRICARE.**