It seems like summer vacation just started, but really we're only a few weeks away from sending our kids back to school. It can be a time of anxiety and confusion for autistic students and a time of preparation and worry for their parents. But it's also an important time of planning for teachers. Here are some tips for parents and teachers that can ease the transition from a summer mind-set to a school year focus.
10 Tips for Families of Autistic Children:
Recognizing the transition in routine will likely trigger anxiety. Be prepared for meltdowns and negative behavior.
Start talking with your child about going back to school a few weeks ahead of time to help them with the mental preparation.
Invite your child to reminisce about positive things that happened the previous school year. Ask them about friends or old teachers they are excited to see again. You can even show them photos from the year before, artwork they created and tests they scored well on.
Write "First Day of School" on their calendar as a visual aid for them.
Discuss and create a morning routine chart with picture visuals. Invite your child to help you in creating this because it will give them a sense of ownership in the process.
Schedule a meeting or phone call with the new teacher(s). Discuss things they should watch for that might indicate the student is having an off day. If there is an IEP already in place, discuss the particulars of the plan with the teacher and other school administrators. Bring your child along to meet the new teacher and see their new classroom so the first day isn't such a shock.
Start back-to-school-night bedtime a few weeks ahead of time.
Go over the rules of acceptable school behavior. Make sure your child is aware of what to do if they become the victim of bullying.
Take a back-to-school shopping trip for supplies and let them pick the items so they are excited about using them.
Be encouraging. Tell them how proud you are of them and what a great student they are. Let them know how much you love going to their school events and seeing the great thing they learn.
10 Tips for Teachers of Autistic Students:
Be very specific when assigning tasks. If necessary, repeat instructions to ensure correct understanding.
Keep your language simple and to the point.
Give fewer choices to avoid confusion and avoid the student feeling overwhelmed.
If you are met with a blank stare, try to reword your statement in another way.
Be literal and avoid idioms. Sarcasm isn't understood by autistic children. If you say, "I'm so hungry I could eat a horse," the child will likely envision you actually eating a horse.
Provide a clear structure of daily routine. In the event of a disruption in that routine, such as an assembly or an early dismissal, give as much advanced warning as possible.
Visuals are better than wordy instructions.
Recognize that a negative change in behavior likely represents anxiety over a task. If possible, give them a short break to calm their fears and try again.
Avoid overstimulation and remove distractions. Children with autism are highly sensitive and what sounds like minimal background noise to you can sound like a freight train to them.
Help prevent the student from being teased or bullied by educating and raising awareness in peers.
These suggestions were prepared by the Juniata County Autism Support Group. For more information about our group, visit www.juniatacoautismsupportgroup.webs.com or our Facebook page at www.facebook.com/JuniataCountyAutismSupportGroup. Our next event will be a reading day for autistic children and their families at 11 a.m. on Sept. 21 at the Juniata County Library.