Getting Ready for the New School Year: Guiding Your Child Through Transitions

As summer gradually gives way to autumn, it’s time once again to prepare for the start of a new school year. Whether your child is about to attend primary school for the first time, level up to a higher grade, or is adapting to a new school because of a move, the initial steps can be challenging, particularly for children on the autism spectrum.

My personal journey with my grandson, who was diagnosed with autism at a young age, has taught me many lessons on how to guide him through the transitions of starting school and adjusting to new environments. Recognizing that every child and situation is unique, I hope that some of the strategies I’ve used may ease the transition for you and your child, smoothing some of those inevitable bumps in the road.

  1. Establish Early Contact with the School and Staff

Reaching out to your child’s school before the start of the year can be helpful. Discussing your child’s placement, arranging a tour of the classroom, and requesting a meeting with the teacher can all contribute to a smoother transition. This proactive approach not only facilitates a smoother start to the year but also sets the stage for ongoing, productive communication with the school staff.

  1. Create a Personalized Story About the New School

In preparation for the big day, consider creating a personal story for your child that includes pictures of their school, classroom, and teachers. Regularly revisiting this visual narrative in the days leading up to the school year can help familiarize your child with the coming changes and make the transition less overwhelming. You can find a sample story on page 11 of A Quick Guide to Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) and download it here.

  1. Preparing at Home

Engage in daily conversations about school and discuss school rules and behavioral expectations. Repetition is key, especially for children on the autism spectrum. To reinforce the expectations, you may like the book I wrote for my grandson, School Rules Are…? There are free downloads of some easy-to-make visual supports in the back of the book to help with this. You can share the key ring cards and task strips with your child’s teacher also. The teacher can tape a task strip to your child’s desk and point at a picture to praise your child for good behavior, or if necessary, remind your child of a rule along with a brief verbal instruction. This blend of visual and auditory cues can reinforce the learning process and help children feel more secure and confident in understanding what’s expected of them.

  1. Attending Orientation

Most schools host orientation events before school begins. These can range from personalized meetings with the teacher to larger group gatherings. Given the potential for sensory overload, if you feel a large group orientation may be overwhelming for your child, ask the school about the possibility of a private meeting.

  1. Meeting the Teacher(s) and Aide(s)

If meeting in person before school starts isn’t feasible, request a phone conference. Providing the teacher with useful information about your child, such as visual aids, communication styles, and any medical or behavioral aspects, can speed up the adjustment process.

One effective strategy I’ve used is creating an “ALL ABOUT…” page and a “Positive Student Profile”. You can find a free download of these forms on pages 20-22 of A Quick Guide to Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). These comprehensive profiles include pertinent medical and behavioral information, special interests, and at least one recent photo of your child. I make it a point to update these forms each year and share them with my grandson’s teachers. This gesture is always well-received, and it allows the teachers and aides to bypass the trial-and-error phase of getting to know your child’s unique needs and strengths. This not only saves valuable time but also sets the stage for a positive and understanding relationship between your child and their educators.

  1. Adjusting to New Schedules and Routines

Starting school often means a significant shift in your child’s daily routine. To prepare your child for their new schedule, including transitions between activities, request a daily and weekly schedule from the teacher. Use this to create a visual or written schedule for your child to review each morning before school. Familiarise your child with their new schedule at least a week before the start of school, and don’t forget to adjust evening bedtimes if wake-up time will be considerably earlier than it has been during summer break.

Navigating the beginning of a new school year can be an inspiring journey, despite its challenges. Through preparation and open communication, we can make the transition to school a bit less daunting for our little explorers. And remember, every small step forward is a victory worth celebrating.

Back-To-School Checklist

  • Contact the school and staff before the start of the school year
  • Write a story for your child including school rules and expectations
  • Prepare your child at home by reviewing the story often
  • Request orientation accommodations if needed
  • Meet with the teacher and aides and introduce them to your child
  • Request schedule, event, and activity information ahead of time
  • Prepare a visual schedule for your child and review it before the start of school and before each school day.

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