Supporting Your Child in a New School Year

If you just Google “Autism Schools near me” you will find that there are many excellent autism-specific programs in smaller schools, and public schools are being forced to kick it up a notch in terms of the services they are providing our children with autism to support them in developing their skills and abilities in an educational environment. The CDC has changed the stats to 1:59 children on the autism spectrum. That is nearly 2% of the school age population, and is expected to rise!

For a parent of a child with autism, sending your child to the right school is important, but in itself, not enough. Working at home with your child to continue to keep them on their green-growing edge is necessary for creating real progress in the functionality and independence that we all dream of for our children. Otherwise, children with autism will continue to make their world smaller and smaller when left to their own devices. They would wear the same clothes every day, eat the same foods every day, watch the same programs on tv, or play the same games on their tablet.

At the beginning of the school year when everything is brand new, the stress in our child’s life skyrockets! Change is difficult for children with autism, and the new school year comes loaded with new experiences, new peers, new teachers, new books and new classrooms. At home we can mitigate some of the difficulty with the new school year by creating a consistent morning and evening routine.

Be sure that when you plan your child’s daily routine, you will be able to execute it consistently; changing after a few days or a few weeks will cause a major setback. Of course, you will experience some frustration, anger, and pushback from your child at first, but if you stay consistent, the routine will serve you for the rest of the school year by supporting the completion of tasks the child would prefer not to do. Homework and daily hygiene routines are at the top of that list.

Be sensitive to your child’s reaction to schedules. Some kids benefit from seeing the full schedule in a graphic presentation, while others may feel overwhelmed by seeing too much. Figure out what constitutes a comfortable amount of schedule data for your child to manage without creating anxiety, and display the schedule accordingly.

Experts tell us that 30 minutes of neurological regulation activity for your child with autism in the morning before school and at least 30 minutes of regulating activity after school will help the child decompress, process their day, and get ready for homework.

Many of us have experienced our child with autism having a full-blown meltdown the moment they cross the threshold of home after a day at school. This does not necessarily indicate that the school is not supporting your child effectively. More often it means that your child has been using all their energy to hold it together during the school day, and they hit the wall when they reach the comfort and safety of home. Don’t take it personally, it means you are the safest place for the child to express himself/herself.

One last tip to help the school year go smoother. Create a strong and consistent communication system with the school. Have a notebook that stays with the child to simplify and encourage communication between you and the teacher(s). Using consistent phrases and words for concepts across all environments, sharing successful strategies, informing teachers of current motivators being used at home (e.g. if you promise a special treat as a motivator for completion of a project) so they can support your effort, and share issues that arise. When all environments are on the same page, the child receives the maximum educational, emotional and functional benefits.