Editor’s Note: The following article was written by Kathy Dolbee, Parent Advocate for the Autism Society of North Carolina.
As the summer toys move to the clearance aisle to make room for the arrival of back-to-school supplies, many parents face the back-to-school transition with mixed emotions.
While we optimistically look forward to the routine and predictability a regular school schedule imposes, the start of a new school year can also mean anxiety for both students and parents.
To help ease the transition, begin establishing a few routines now:
• Post a calendar in a central location and mark the first day of school.
• Write a social story, giving your child information about the upcoming change in schedule.
• Make an appointment for your child to meet his new teacher and see his new classroom. Mark that date on the calendar also.
• Prior to meeting the teacher, take time to collect your thoughts and write a brief profile of your child, making sure to include both his strengths and challenges. Let her know what your child’s anxiety indicators are and how best to calm him.
• Make a list of needed school supplies and, if possible, allow your child to participate in the process. This might include accompanying you to the store, shopping online or in a catalog, or just crossing items off the list as they are purchased.
• Establish a regular, reasonable bedtime routine. While it is true that Daylight Savings Time can make it tough to feel sleepy in summertime, a bedtime routine does not necessarily mean going to sleep right away.
• Establish a structured, visual morning routine that increases your child’s independence and decreases his need for verbal prompting. (Who wants to be nagged first thing in the morning?)
• Re-introduce the use of a schedule, by planning and noting favorite activities. Gradually insert additional tasks to be finished prior to the favorite activity. Be patient, this is a weaning process.
Initially your child may resist your efforts to establish such routines, but he is more likely to comply if the routine is pleasurable and consistent. Many children really enjoy setting their own alarm clock to a favorite radio station; a warm bath, a favorite book or magazine to read, and quiet time prior to “lights out” work well for many kids.
Studies show that children feel secure and are happiest when their world makes sense to them. Consistent routines and structure helps to accomplish this. Studies also indicate that many kids with ASD struggle with some degree of executive function impairment. If your child has difficulty with organization, keeping track of his possessions, and structuring his time, becoming his personal secretary will not help him in the long run. Instead, build structure into his environment and use consistent visual prompts.
Establish and maintain routines and see your child’s independence, self-control and self-reliance increase. Countdown to school begins now!