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Easing the Transition Back to School

It’s that time of year again…back to school we go! The transition from summer to fall, more specifically from summer break to the start of the school year, can be overwhelming for everyone involved. The added stressors of back-to-school shopping, meet-and-greets with teachers, and transitioning into new schools can be challenging. We have some tips that we hope will make this transition easier for you and your child!

Create a social narrative: This is a great tool to prepare your child for the upcoming transition. Create a visual and/or written story of what a typical school day will look like for your child. Focus on the most relevant details. For some individuals, they may understand and benefit from a narrative that outlines what will happen across the full school day, including who will be in the classroom with them, what activities they will engage in throughout the day, and classroom expectations. Other individuals will require simple and shorter narratives that emphasize one specific expectation or rule (e.g., staying seated on the bus), one particular part of the day (e.g., riding the bus; arrival to school), or one event (e.g., “meet the teacher” night).

Create a visual schedule: Create a visual schedule that details what your child’s day will look like from beginning to end. These should be individually tailored. Some individuals may need a simple picture schedule. Others will benefit from a written schedule, and some will benefit from written schedule presented in an agenda or day planner format. Review this schedule with your child before the school year begins. It may be helpful to create a schedule that they can keep with them throughout the school day as well.

Tour the classroom ahead of time: This may not be possible in all cases, as we all have busy schedules leading up to the first day of school. If possible, set up a time for your child to meet their teacher and get a tour of the classroom. Exposure to a new classroom environment ahead of time can help ease anxiety and increase comfort in the classroom. This can be especially helpful for kids transitioning to new schools.

Create open lines of communication: What works for one child may not work for another, so it is important to familiarize teachers with some strategies that work best for your child. How do they most successfully transition? What are some highly preferred reinforcers that motivate your child? What methods have been used to successfully combat challenging behavior in the past? A simple way to do this is to send an email introducing yourself and your child before the first day of school. It may also be helpful to provide a written document detailing the most important information.

Keep structure outside of the school day: Set expectations for your child that mirror those they experience throughout the school day. Create a schedule that your child can follow once they get home from school. This schedule can include things like free time, homework, chores, dinner, and bedtime routine. Structure creates consistency that can help eliminate challenging behaviors and anxiety surrounding the transition from school schedule to home life.


A few basic tips for educators

Develop an individually tailored visual or written schedule detailing daily activities and the times they will occur.

Give clear warnings when transitions are about to occur. Whether you use a timer, some other visual support, or verbal warning, be clear about when one activity will end and another will begin.

Have reinforcing items available! It is important to have items in your classroom that motivate students to engage in tasks. Provide opportunities for students to engage with these items once tasks are completed.


Lindsay Gordon, MA, BCBA, is a member of ASNC’s Clinical Department in the Triangle region and can be reached at    

ASNC’s Clinical Department staff is composed of PhD and master’s-level licensed psychologists, Board Certified Behavior Analysts, and former special education teachers. We provide individualized intensive consultation using evidence-based practices to support children and adults across the spectrum in home, school, employment, residential and other community-based contexts. We also deliver workshops to professionals on a wide range of topics including but not limited to, strategies to prevent and respond to challenging behaviors, best practices in early intervention, functional communication training, and evidence-based practices in instruction for K-12 students with autism.

To find out more, contact us at 919-390-7242 or


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