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Common Back to School Questions – Answered!

On August 19, the Autism Society of North Carolina held a webinar panel discussion to address issues related to returning to school in 2021. The panel discussion featured Autism Resource Specialists Vickie Dieter and Nancy Nestor and Clinical Department members Deb Leach and Louise Southern.

We know that a lot of uncertainty still exists around how this school year will progress; the Autism Society of North Carolina is monitoring the situation and will offer more webinars and panel discussions as necessary. Check our calendar for upcoming events and see the resources at the bottom of this entry.


Here are some of the questions addressed during this webinar:

How can a parent express concern about lack of progress in the past year due to online learning?

Data, data, data. The school is collecting data about your child’s progress and parents must make sure they understand what the data means. You also have data on your child and should share it. Be clear and concise. Make sure you document your concerns in writing and ask teachers and school officials to document their concerns in writing. You can alert teachers to issues you’ve seen over the past year, but also be sure to tell teachers what you’ve seen the child do well, since sometimes children do learn better in the home.

How long should a parent wait before reaching out to a teacher? Should concerns be expressed at the beginning of the year, or should a parent wait and see?

It depends. If you’re worried about a severe regression in skills or behavior, reach out. It’s also appropriate to provide some time for the child and teacher to get to know each other, to feel things out. Students will react differently to returning to the structure of a classroom.

If a child had a behavior intervention plan in place before the pandemic, but has been out of school for the past year, at what point would the plan restart or be reevaluated?

The plan that was in place is the plan that should be followed; your child’s teacher may need a copy of the plan so you should ensure they have it. It’s reasonable to ask that the IEP team come together to review the plan, but allow some time so that the teacher gets to know the student and there’s some data on how the student is doing in the new environment. Some students are going to have some behavior issues in the first days of school as they adjust to returning to the classroom, so it will take time to see what the situation is. Eight weeks from the start of school would be a good time period for that data. It really varies across counties and regions in terms of how often behavior intervention plans are reviewed, and this is something an Autism Resource Specialist can assist with.

How much should I share on a student profile form?

Share the information that will help your child be successful. Teachers want to help students succeed. Be sure that the information is up-to-date and that you’re not just providing the same information year after year without updating. Because teachers are busy, consider whether there’s an abbreviated version you can share, and if there are more serious issues, then consider providing a more detailed and specific version.

What if my child can’t tolerate a mask in a school in which masks are required?

Continue to work with your child on wearing a mask. Try making a game out of it – see how long they can wear their mask. But also collect the data on how long they were able to wear it; you can provide this data to the school. Teachers may be able to build in breaks consistent with what the child has been able to tolerate at home. Schools do have to provide reasonable accommodations, and it may be that the student could wear a face shield or focus on wearing a mask during certain activities. If you are encountering a lot of challenges, reach out to an Autism Resource Specialist to help navigate this issue.

What are my options if a school closes or my student has to quarantine at home?

This will really vary depending on where you are. Remember that schools and teachers want students to succeed, so reach out to teachers and ask what work students can complete at home (assuming they are well and able) or what goals can be addressed at home. We have seen school districts working with us to provide alternative ways to work on goals. Again, reach out to an Autism Resource Specialist if you need assistance with this issue.

Can I ask a teacher to implement a strategy that has been working well at home (such as a visual support)?

Share the information with the teacher. Many teachers will be happy to receive this kind of information. Remember that data can be helpful here; for example, some parents have taken video of their child completing a task with the help of a visual support to show what’s possible when a strategy is implemented.

How can I make the homework experience more successful, especially for a kid coming home with a lot of homework?

When possible, offer the student some choice and control. Ask what subject they’d like to work on first. Build in breaks. Keep data on how long homework is taking. Try setting some time limits if you find homework is taking all afternoon and evening. If the student is working until midnight, then reach out to the teacher. There may be some room for accommodation or adjustment (i.e., the student can answer fewer math problems if they are strong in math but should spend more time on reading comprehension because that’s an area for growth).


The Autism Society of North Carolina has resources that can help with school issues:  

Autism Resource Specialists



Student profile

Rapid Response Clinical Consultation – short-term Clinical services offered via telehealth


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