Transitioning to a new school is a big change for any child, but for those on the Autism spectrum, it can be particularly stressful. Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) often struggle with change, as “difficulties with transition” is actually a symptom of ASD. The good news is, with a little planning and preparation you can help ease your child’s anxiety, as well as your own. Here are a few tips to help your child get ready to start at a new school.
Help your child associate with anything related to the new school as much as you can. It is helpful to plan a tour of the new school and visit the classroom. During your visit, practice walking from the bus loop to the classroom, using lockers and walking to the cafeteria. Meeting your child’s teacher in advance will help as well, but if that is not possible due to scheduling restraints, you can also show your child a picture of their teacher.
If you have access to the school prior to the first day, possibly during your visit with your child, snap a few pictures and create a photo book for your child containing the entrance to the school, the classroom, cafeteria, playground, lockers, classmates, administrators, coaches, anything that will your student become familiar with their new environment.
Make it exciting
You don’t need to be over the top, but help your child think about the positive things that will come along with going to a new school, how proud you are of him/her, and how the new school will help with your child’s strengths and weaknesses. Talk about the new school with your child often and frequently remind them when school will begin in the months and weeks leading up to school. Try to recruit family members, friends and therapists to talk about the excitement of trying new things as well. Acknowledging what your child will miss about the old school is also an important part of the process.
Open lines of communication
Make a phone call, send an email or schedule a pre-school conference with your teacher and administrators so you can discuss your concerns and preferences and the school’s experience with autism. Actively communicating with your child’s educators can not only provide you with peace of mind, but it can also ensure your child is getting the help they need, as outlined in their Individualized Education Program (IEP) and help your child’s educators prepare for the transition.
Use schedules and social stories
Schedules can be helpful to break up your child’s day into manageable pieces. Identifying where, when and how various events will be held can make it seem less overwhelming. Many children on the autism spectrum find social stories comforting as well. In a social story, your child is the main character and you use narration, photos and drawings to portray a story in preparation for a specific situation. For example, if your child is nervous about riding the bus to school, your story might include the names of friends on the bus, where your child may sit, a picture of the bus driver and ways to remember his/her bus number.
Plan for the unexpected
There is no way that you can possibly identify every possible scenario that will play out during a school day, which is why it is important to prepare for situations that may not go as planned. Make a plan for unstructured time, such as lunch, recess and free time throughout the day. Use social stories to explain proper behavior and familiarize your child with new routines.
Contact us if you have more questions about transitioning to a new school, we are happy to discuss further. Or, if you are still exploring your which school is the best fit for your child, click here for information on school options for children with Autism.