Summer vacation is ending and the new school year is just around the corner. There’s excitement in the air, but at the same time we know many children are feeling anxious. They may face a new classroom, new friends and teachers, or maybe an entirely new educational environment. The more prepared we are to tackle the school year, the less anxiety your child may experience. So how can we help our children prepare?
As a first step, allow your child to partake in shopping for their school supplies. The child can assist in obtaining the correct amount and style of supplies. If you feel your child may be overwhelmed by a vast array of options, select a few items that you think they would like and give them a choice. For example, if your child likes Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Minions, or Paw Patrol, show them 3 backpacks and let them make the final decision.
If your child is anything like mine, their backpack is full of additional items that they have to take to school. Things like an augmentative communication device and additional therapy supplies can significantly increase the weight of a backpack. Some children benefit from having a rolling backpack versus a traditional backpack that can cause stress to their bodies. Rolling backpacks are also a great tool to help your child get accustomed to being responsible for their own belongings when it comes to traveling.
Some children find it helpful to prepare for the new school year by reviewing a social story. Obtain permission from your child’s school to take pictures of the campus and staff and create a social story individualized to your child’s day. Repeated exposure to the pictures may help your child feel more comfortable with their school setting. I like to ensure that photographs of my child’s educators and therapists are included in his augmentative communication device.
Practicing for the school year can be a tremendous help for your child and can create less of a rushed feeling if your child is aware of the school morning expectations. For instance, a few weeks before school starts, begin waking your child at the time they will need to be up for school. If you drive your child to school, do a mock drive to the school so that your child becomes familiar with the routine.
Take some time to sit down and create a profile of your student. This can help your child’s educators become familiar with your child and their needs in greater detail outside of their Individualized Education Plan or 504. The Friendship Circle of Michigan offers this article about creating a teacher information packet.
If possible, request to meet with your child’s teacher prior to meet the teacher night. Some schools can be hectic on these evenings and this will allow your child to meet their teacher in a more relaxed state. One of the things I enjoy doing each school year is writing a letter to my child’s classmates. I start with an introduction to my child and discuss what autism is in a child friendly manner. I later discuss autism in more scientific terms. I then discuss what autism is like for my child and mention traits that his classmates will witness. I then end my letter with resources for adults and children, whether it is books, videos or websites and note that our family is always welcoming of questions and play dates.
As the school year progresses, make sure to keep any therapists, educators and team members informed of what is occurring in your child’s journey. Anytime I receive a report regarding my child, I pass on a copy in paper or electronic form to all his team members. You could also consider having a secret, closed group on Facebook specifically relating to your child and only your child’s team members are invited to join. If at any point you find yourself needing assistance with your child’s education, Raising Special Kids offers trainings throughout the year regarding a variety of educational matters.
Arizona Autism United can also help support your child at school. AZA United offers an Autism Awareness Training at no cost to families. This service is provided by a certified Special Education teacher to help community members better understand and support individuals with autism. For schools, training is available for elementary (3rd grade – 5th grade), middle (6th grade – 8th grade) and high school (9th grade – 12th grade) students and staff to become more aware and understand the challenges that students with autism can face. The goal of the program is to encourage students to accept, include, and support their peers with autism in school and in after-school activities. It is also designed to provide teachers with information and strategies so they can continue to support, encourage, and foster inclusive relationships among their students throughout the school year. This program is also designed to support or complement any anti-bullying program that might already be in place at a school.
AZA United also provides a variety of customized contracted school consultation services for public, private and charter schools of all kinds. Services can include any combination of speech therapy, behavioral aide staffing, assessments and behavior plans, and training for teachers or paraprofessionals. Services are provided by different levels of staff depending on the needs of the school. Examples include speech therapists (SLP/SLPA), behavior analysts (BCBA), behavior specialists, and behavioral aides. All staff are highly trained in autism, challenging behavior, and effective teaching and motivational strategies. Each school’s service agreement with AZA United varies and can be temporary, ongoing, or flexible.
In the spirit of education, I’ll leave you with one of my favorite quotes: "Tell me and I forget, teach me and I may remember, involve me and I learn.”