Back-to-school season is here and for parents of young children with autism, this can be a time ridden with anxiety and stress. You knew this moment would come but now it’s here, the first day of kindergarten. To prepare for this day, here are five tips to help both you and your child prepare:
- Make Important Connections:
Before the school year begins, contact the school to meet the principal and kindergarten teachers. This gives you the opportunity to meet the people who will be interacting with your child daily and discuss your child’s needs, strengths and interests to help him or her have a successful and smooth transition into a new environment.
Talk to your child about what to expect at school. Do this frequently to help reduce your child’s anxiety and help them mentally prepare. Play “school” at home, rehearse the drop off and reinforce that you will be there to pick them up at the same time every day. This gives your child an idea of what the school schedule is like and lets him or her practice to feel more comfortable.
If you know in advance who the teacher will be, try and get a photo of that teacher and place in the same spot at home for your child to say good morning to each day. Because children with autism are most comfortable when things are familiar, this repetition and rehearsal can help ease anxiety and help them feel more comfortable.
- Give a Visual:
Create a photo book or video for your child. Show pictures of the school and surroundings like the classroom, playground, restrooms, gym, cafeteria and any other area that may be important to your child. For many children with autism, the visual impact of being able to see things helps them learn more effectively and cope with new situations. If they can see it, their anxiety will be lessened.
- Adjust Routines:
Adjust your child’s routines so that he or she is ready for the school schedule. To prepare, it’s important they go to bed earlier so they can wake up earlier. Also, packing the night before could be helpful in developing the school routine. Get the backpack ready with lunch and water, and actually practice getting into the car. Getting used to routines will be extremely helpful so they know what to expect.
- Arrange a Playdate:
Utilize online platforms such as Facebook and Next Door to connect with parents in your neighborhood whose children will attend the same kindergarten as your child. Before school starts, work to arrange a play date at a local park so your child can meet kids he or she will see on the first day of school. Seeing familiar faces on the playground can make a world of a difference when it comes to comfort level on the first day of school.
Along with early diagnosis of autism, these tips will help you get your child on track for a positive first day of school experience!