Ten Tips for Helping Children with Autism Start the School Day

The beginning of every school day is often one of the most stressful times for the child with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), the family, and for the parents. Most children with Autism require routines in order to deal with situations that are constantly changing. This article is designed to give ten suggestions for helping children with ASD start the day.

1. At the beginning of the school year and as you start a new semester, gradually introduce school supplies. New school clothes can also present difficulty so try to select colors and material that will appeal to your child. You may want to cut off the tags and remember to label each item of clothing with your child’s name.

2. Choose supplies that your child will like. Again, select colors and designs that are right for your child. If he or she likes a cartoon character, you might want to purchase a lunch bag with that design, but only if it won’t create too much of a distraction. Each item can be introduced one at a time, but definitely before use.

3. Make a visit to the school before the first day. Talk about the school, what the day will be like, and describe routines. You may want to pack a lunch bag and have a picnic at the school. If teachers are setting up classrooms, you may be able to stop in for a short introduction. Take time to visit the front office, health office, the playground, and the library.

4. You have the right to call a meeting at any time. Before the school year starts is the perfect time. At this meeting you can become acquainted with the team members and make certain that the Individualized Education Plan (IEP) is appropriate and up to date. Talk about your specific concerns, clearly state what your child needs in order to be successful, and schedule a follow up meeting a week or two into the year in order to make any necessary adjustments.

5. Work with the school to design a daily picture schedule as many children with autism find visual prompts comforting. This visual schedule can carry over to the home morning routine as well as the after school program. The visual calendar or schedule often helps with transitions. Picture cards may also prove helpful. These can be laminated and held together with a ring or Velcro.

6. You may want to attach words or captions to the pictures if the written prompting benefits your child. Symbols such as question marks can signal to your child when something unexpected might happen. When your child becomes familiar with symbols of this type, it may help to make unexpected events a little less threatening.

7. If your child isn’t too bothered by sudden noises, an alarm or timer may help in preparing for a transition. The signals that you use will be determined by your child’s specific needs. (If loud noises do bother your child, you may want to send ear plugs or a headset to school to muffle sounds.)
8. Many children with autism benefit from the use of social stories. Social stories not only help to prepare for schedule changes, they can also help your child learn appropriate behaviors and expectations for different types of settings.

9. Decide on a way to keep an open, positive line of communication between school and home. Communication logs are a helpful way to exchange daily information and eliminate misunderstandings. Changes in routine and specific requirements can be documented in order to avoid frustration.

10. A transitional object may help in bridging the adjustment from home to school and back again. Familiar toys and objects may be carried in your child’s backpack or on the bus, as long as clear guidelines are set with the school and your child.

Every child with ASD is special and unique. The ideas listed above are merely suggestions designed to help your child prepare for the new school year and adapt to daily school routines.

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