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Teaching Skills to Prepare for Back to School

Going back to school after time off for the summer is an exciting, but often overwhelming time. You may begin to feel some nervousness about how your loved one will transition to a new schedule or even navigate a new environment. To help prepare them for the new school year, it is important to think about skills that they will need to handle their school day successfully, such as:

  • Riding the school bus
  • Walking in the hallway
  • Using a locker
  • Switching classrooms
  • Following classroom routines
  • Changing clothes for PE
  • Transitioning between classes
  • Following directions for fire drills
  • Waiting for the bus with a caregiver
  • Packing and unpacking their backpack
  • Responding to their name
  • Asking for help
  • Requesting to use the restroom


There are a variety of strategies that can be used to teach skills that will be needed at school.


Behavioral Skills Training (BST)

When thinking of teaching a new skill, a popular model is Behavioral Skills Training or BST. The steps are as follows:

  1. Provide basic instructions: Give simple and specific information about what the skill is as well as what will be expected of the learner. Depending on the skills your learner already has, you might even explain why the skill is important. This step can be adapted for all learners through the amount of language used, using pictures, or developing a social narrative. Social narrative can be especially helpful in transferring skills to the “real world” because they can be carried into school for easy real-time use. Find narratives on riding the school bus and going to a new classroom on the ASNC website.
  2. Model the skill: Lights, camera, action! Time to act out the skill by demonstrating what it looks like. When starting out, it is recommended that you act it out in a familiar environment.
  3. Rehearsal/role-play/feedback: Next, act it out together. Have the individual imitate the skill that you are modeling and give them feedback using positive language (what to do rather than what not to do) and praise for their best version of the skill. Rehearse, rehearse, and rehearse! The goal here is to become familiar with the level of help that the individual needs so that you can provide the right amount of assistance. This will also help you to inform others about the amount of assistance the individual needs while in school.
  4. “Real-world” assessment: It’s time to try these new skills out in a new setting. If possible, it is best to do this at a designated time so that you can again assess the level of assistance needed. It is important to note that it may not be possible to practice these skills at school before the school year starts, however the level of assistance may change from the practiced environment because of new distractions such as noises, people, or sights. It will be best to collaborate with your loved one’s teachers or other staff that will be working closely with them so that they can understand the current level of help needed and be prepared to jump in when needed to provide additional assistance or use a social story at any time!

With BST, it is important to keep in mind that a learner will need a few skills in their toolkit for this strategy to be successful. They must be able to imitate and sustain attention for social narratives and role-play. Just remember that clear and hands-on instruction will be key in helping any learner.



Another strategy that you can use within and outside of BST is reinforcement. Reinforcement is important to increasing your learner’s school navigation skills base. Make sure to recognize and praise or provide positive feedback when you observe appropriate behavior! This may also include giving them a break, access to toys or objects that they enjoy, or other preferred activities.


Visual supports

In addition to these teaching strategies to build on their foundation of skills, you can also help your loved one understand their schedule. The following tools can be useful:

Activity Schedules: Create a picture or word sequence of activities for your learner and go over it with them. It will help to inform them what is currently happening and for how long, what is upcoming, when an activity is over, and can also help to prepare them for any changes that might occur.

Visual Rules: Explain to your loved one using pictures and words that show what is expected of them in a certain classroom setting or the general school environment.


What can I do if some necessary skills aren’t developed yet?

Collaborate with everyone who will be working closely with your child during the school day. This may include the bus driver, bus paraprofessionals, teachers, teacher assistants, 1:1 aides, and school counselors.

Ensure that they are informed of any and all information that will help to keep your child safe. This includes behavioral and medical concerns.

Inform them of your loved one’s strengths and things that may be a challenge for them throughout their school day. Examples of this may be preferred activities and non-preferred activities that may require additional assistance or time for your loved one to complete, as well as transitions that may be a little more difficult. Consider writing a profile of your loved one; see our website for an example and a blank one you can use.

Though getting your loved one ready for the new school year may seem overwhelming, with some planning and preparation, they can achieve a successful transition!


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 clinical@autismsociety-nc.org.


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