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Back to School in Uncertain Times

It’s that time of the year again! School will be starting soon, and parents and school personnel find themselves in the same climate of uncertainty that has existed since schools closed in 2020 due to the pandemic. As I write this, school boards in our local communities are voting on whether students will be required to wear masks. The only thing I can feel certain about is that much will change at the local or state level as circumstances with COVID-19 evolve. Rapidly increasing cases of the Delta variant could lead to more questions than answers about what the school year will look like this year.  This is not exactly an ideal situation for children and youth with autism who very often need to be prepared for what to expect.  

One way to help prepare your child is to try to prepare yourself for the possibilities associated with school this year…in school or virtual learning, masks vs. no masks, amended school schedules, etc. Make a list of all the things you learned from the 2020/21 school year and prepare as best you can to deal with the challenges that are likely to come. Talk to other parents for ideas and advice about what they are doing to help prepare their child. Consider getting involved with an online or in-person support group such as a local ASNC Chapter 

Identify as many things as you can that are familiar to your child and introduce new objects and materials to help your child be familiar and comfortable with them before school starts. Encourage your child to be a part of selecting a new book bag, new clothing, a lunch box, etc. if they are interested. Expose your child to the new materials as much as possible so they will be used to them if/when they return to school.  

Remember to use strategies that have worked for your child and that commonly work for individuals with autism, such as social stories and visual supports. Even if your child has outgrown some of these strategies you may want to try them again if your child is struggling with changes or demonstrating signs of stress.   

Partner with your child’s school to establish a plan to address issues before they become problems. We can’t anticipate every scenario or potential problem, but it helps to share information and try to predict potential difficulties based on your child’s personality, needs, and past experiences.   

Be sure to take advantage of the resources on the ASNC website, including:

Social Narratives

Webinar Library


ASNC will continue to monitor the situation and partner with families to address issues at school. Check the website regularly for a list of upcoming workshops. Remember you are not alone, and you can always contact your local Autism Resource Specialist if you need information and support.


Vickie Dieter, an Autism Resource Specialist in the Catawba Valley region and mom to a son with autism, can be reached at vdieter@autismsociety-nc.org.


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