Your child finally settled into a summer routine and already it is time to start transitioning him into "back to school" mode. For most children with autism, transitions and new situations are difficult and stressful. Starting several weeks before school can help to make the transition easier for your child, and for you.
Set up a time to visit the school. This is very important if your child will be attending a new school, but even if he is going to the same school it can help to familiarize him with a new classroom and a new teacher. Make an appointment to meet the teacher (and aide if there is one) and spend some time walking the hallways, going to the library, lunchroom and other rooms your child will be during the school day. Take a camera or cell phone to take pictures and then either print out the pictures to create a book or use the phone, iPad or computer to create a slide show. Your child can look through the book or slide show over and over to help him feel at home in the new environment.
Start to introduce school time routines. Your child's bedtime and wake-up time may have changed over the summer months. Start slowly, by changing bedtimes and wake-up times to 15 minutes earlier every few days until he is back on a school time schedule.
Create a daily routine starting with waking up, having breakfast and getting ready for school. Start having your child follow a portion of the routine each day, slowly increasing how much of the routine he follows so he is ready on the first day of school.
Have your child help with buying supplies. Make a list of the supplies you will need for school and take one or two shopping trips per week to purchase the supplies. This way, your child is only in the stores or malls for short periods of time rather than spending an entire day at the mall.
If your child is wearing a uniform, have him start wearing the uniform for one hour, then two, etc. until he can wear it for the length of a school day. This also gives you advance notice of any problems that may come up from stiff material, tags, etc. before the start of school.
Spend time on the school grounds. For younger children, this might mean going to the school playground several times before school starts. For older children, you might want to simply take a few walks around the school grounds so it feels familiar.
Have your child practice packing up his school backpack. This helps with spatial awareness and helps him understand how to fit all his supplies inside the backpack without frustration at the end of the school day.
Pack your child's lunch as you would during school, even if he is eating at home. Use the lunchbox or paper bag and have the lunch in the refrigerator. Your child will get used to taking out his lunch, eating it and throwing away the trash.
You may also want to talk privately with your child's teacher and school officials before the first day of school. In next week's post, we'll go over what types of questions to ask and what information the teacher and the school should have.