School’s in Session!

Having strategies in place that support the change will help your child thrive in any setting and make this school year the best school year yet!

The start of the school year comes with its own set of frenzy!

It is a time when parents, children and teachers alike experience new beginnings of all sorts: new classroom, new groups of children, new routines, new learning curves and new feelings about what the school year will bring.

Understanding Change On the Spectrum

There is an old saying that goes, “The only thing constant in the world is change.” Whether neurotypical or autistic the impact of change could be very stressful. Change however, for someone on the spectrum of autism, presents its own set of unique challenges.  Therefore,

maintaining consistency in daily routines offers a sense of security.

Those on the spectrum may respond differently to sudden change; for example, exhibiting repetitive behavior, displaying withdrawal, experiencing a meltdown or possible aggression as many on the spectrum may have difficulty with self regulation.

Remember what might be considered an extraordinary reaction to change could simply be a result of anxiety caused by the change, resulting in the inability to clearly communicate thoughts, emotions and needs concerning the recent change.

Roughly 25% of those with autism are nonverbal; therefore, creating strategies and tools for effective communication is vital, especially with change.


Back to School Steps to Support Change on the Spectrum

Step 1: Gain clarity and gather concrete information about your child’s new school year.

Taking the weeks prior to the first day of school to proactively learn about all the details for your child’s classroom is helpful to identifying the changes that could be a trigger your child.


Here are some questions you may want to answer to ensure you have all the information you need about the new school year:

  • Does the school have the most recent copy of my child’s IEP?
  • Where is the classroom?
  • How many students are in the classroom as compared to last year?
  • Any familiar faces, classmates, in my child’s classroom this year?
  • Any changes to school schedules such as start time, lunchtime, recess etc?
  • Does my child’s teacher have experience in managing a child on the spectrum?

Step 2: Communicate the change as clearly as you can to your child.  A simple marking of the calendar the first day of school and checking off the days passed will allow your child to see and understand a change is coming.  Use clear language with limited facial expressions to give your child space to process successfully your intended message of change.


Step 3: Prepare and support the change with tools and resources for your child as well as their educational team at school including but not limited to their teacher and administrative staff.

Here are three great ways you can prepare and support your child adjusting to a new school year:

  • Visual Schedules

Visual schedules are planners that use images, symbols and photos to better communicate a series of tasks or activities for the day. A visual schedule can be an activity that you and your child can do together which will help you and your child communicate needs and expectations for the new school year. For example, a child may want to eat oatmeal before school instead of the waffles they have eaten all summer long. It creates a medium for flow and ease of transition.

To learn more about creating your own visual schedule watch the latest “On the Spectrum,” show episode D.I.Y. Visual Schedules.

  • “About Me” Portfolio

Creating a small synopsis for your child’s teacher is a great way to introduce your child and the unique qualities they will bring to your teacher’s classroom. Using fun inviting pictures of your child as well as share interesting things about them helps break the barrier of unfamiliarity for your child’s teacher who’s also experiencing change as well.

Here are some things you can include in an “About Me” Portfolio:

  1. Child’s sensory sensitivities.
  2. Best forms of communication (especially if your child uses technology to communicate, this would be a great way to share this).
  3. Fun facts about what they did over the summer.
  4. Favorite foods.
  5. Favorite things to do.
  • School Trip!

Take a trip to the school to see where their new classroom will be and what it will look like or better yet; modeling the change before it happens is a great way to prepare for the start of new school year.

If school has started already, take the weekends to model pre-school time routines to ensure when Monday comes around, the child is acclimated to what’s to come.


To a Successful School Year!

Change is inevitable, it is a part of our lives every moment all the time.

This school year, be ready, be open and be prepared for the changes that your child can and will experience.

Having strategies in place that support the change will help your child thrive in any setting and make this school year the best school year yet!

Download the free autism resources for your school year here!

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