After many months of being educated in the home during the Covid-19 outbreak, returning to school is going to be challenging for many children, none more so than those with autism.
We all know that disruption to routine can cause significant distress to a child with autism and while many are likely just beginning to adjust to this new home school lifestyle, further disruption will now come in the form of going back to school.
That being said, there are ways in which you can help your child with autism make the transition as smooth and stress-free as possible. In this post, we are going to explore some useful tips for reducing stress and making going back to school less of a challenge.
Keep the Lines of Communication Open
For many children with autism, knowing what is going to happen ahead of time can make all the difference. Simply announcing in the morning that they will be returning to school may yield disastrous results.
However, taking the time to regularly talk to your child about going back to school and what they can expect may go a long way in reducing their stress levels in regards to the situation. You can also encourage your child to talk about their worries and concerns.
Do a practice run
There are so many new rules and procedures in place that school may seem like a completely different place to a child, especially one with autism. If it is at all possible, take your child to visit the school before they go back to allow them to experience the changes in a safe and controlled manner rather than throwing them in at the deep end on day one.
If you aren’t able to visit the school it is important to explain to your child what changes have taken place and why. On top of this, you might act out some role play within the home to practice for the return to school.
Create a care plan
If your child is able to, sit down with them and draw up a plan for returning to school. Your child might draw pictures and help you to explain their feelings and needs. This can then be given to school staff as a way of helping them to ease your child back into the classroom.
What’s more, your child will likely feel a sense of control, which is something that is imperative to those with autism.
Allow your child to help prepare
Involving your child in the preparations for going back to school can help them to feel as though they are playing an important role in the process and is a good way to relieve anxiety.
Perhaps let them choose new school supplies such as pens, lunch bags and shoes, for example, and encourage them to help pack their bags.
Give visual aids
Autistic children are highly sensitive to visual stimulus and this is a great way to help them when returning to school. In the weeks leading up to their return, you might create a display board with pictures of the school, a list of activities they will be doing and photos of their classmates, for example.
In addition to this, a calendar on the wall where they can cross out the days leading up to their return to school may serve as a useful aid.
Provide sensory relief
One of the ways that autistic children handle their anxiety and stress is through sensory stimulation. Their emotions are bound to be running high during this time and ensuring that they have extra sensory equipment can help them to better manage their feelings.
You might create a sensory room or space within the home where your child can go when they feel worried, upset or anxious. This should be a safe space and may contain things they like to touch, lights or audio.
Going back to school can be a trying time for parents of autistic children, attempting to return the child to education without causing them serious distress is certainly a challenge. But by implementing certain tactics in the lead-up to going back to school, your child is less likely to find the transition as difficult.
Through communication, sensory aids and involving your child in the process, you are both more likely to experience a smoother return and also benefit from some bonding time whilst doing so.
Article by Ava Wadaby.
Ava Wadaby is a contributing writer for Autism Parenting Magazine. Ava researches and writes about autism as she works to understand the challenges of her son who was diagnosed with autism and ADHD. She also regularly conducts activities with children in her neighborhood, focusing on their learning and development.
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