Starting the School Year When Your Child Has Autism

This post is assuming that your child has Aspergers or HFA level symptoms and thus, capable and “ready” for school.

The whole school process is a struggle enough. Parents have so much to get ready…. supplies, paperwork, transportation and more. Then you have the child who’s going to be heading out into the world, for the first time on their own, to fend for themselves.

It’s nerve wracking. It’s scary. It’s tiring.

On top of all of that, your child has Autism? This is a recipe for disaster if not prepared for in advance.

I don’t have all the answers, I’m just a guy trying to get my own kids through it but I can share with you some of the things that we’ve done. Maybe some of it will be new to you, maybe you’ll have much better ideas than I do (and please do share them in the comments!)

schoolFirst Year

If this is your child’s first year of school, you’re going to have to do a lot of preparation in advance. This doesn’t start a few months before or even a year before… this should start as early as possible.

  • seated learning time (counting, alphabet, shapes)
  • scheduled snacks/lunches as per strict routine
  • scheduled play time
  • play with others. Whether that means playing “next to” another child or what have you.
  • play groups would be ideal. Learning how to cope in a room with other children

Obviously this isn’t going to be fundamental or even strict for the first little while but as you approach that all important first day of school, it should become more and more a part of the regular routine.

A good idea to get your child ready is to visit the school and the teacher in advance and find out what some of the routines will be.
Also, listen for keywords because they may refer to certain things differently than you would at home.
For example, my son’s school has “nutrition breaks” rather than “lunch”

As part of your build up routine, have your child get up at the same time every day, get dressed, teeth brushed, breakfast in and everything before 8am or 8:30am.

I know that most of those things are a challenge on a good day but the more it becomes a part of the routine, the better it will go over time. It’s far better to struggle BEFORE school than when school actually does start.

Back to School

So your child has been to school already and is just finishing their summer vacation. That’s fine, a lot of the same rules will apply except that your child is likely a bit older which may mean having to rebuild some routines.

For example, your child’s bed time may have been pushed a little later since the sun doesn’t go down as early. Your child may even be waking up later as a result.

Going out to the park, swimming, sitting around and playing video games…. all of these things disrupt the routine and even though they know full well what to expect at school, they may still find it a huge challenge to cope.

About 2 weeks before going back to school, start to ease their bedtime back to it’s regular time. Not at all once but a bit by bit.

The week before school, go back to your school routine. Waking up at a certain time, going to bed at bed time… and everything else becomes school mode.

Get them dressed, fed, cleaned and even pack their lunches in the morning.

To make it fun, use that packed lunch as an excuse for some last chance trips to the park or the lake or what have you. Let them do their lunches as they would at school… meaning, no help (or not much) from you.

This helps them to get back into school mode.

The Best Thing You Can Do Is Not Be A Parent

I know, you just want to enjoy every last minute and make them as happy as possible for every last minute of freedom they have.

But that does very little to prepare them for what is to come.

And there’s no saying that the preparation can’t be fun. You just have to be creative. As I said earlier, go on picnics… give them rewards for a job well done.

Preparation is key, I’ve found. My wife is a master at it and really, this post is just notes as I tag along with her awesome planning.

The only way you can discover, recognize and avoid as many potential pitfalls and issues as possible in advance is to start before the fact. Treat the week before (or even 2 weeks before) as if they were school days so that you can hash out any problems or find out what will become problems before you have to deal with it for real.

That way, failed mornings don’t jeopardize an actual school day. It’s far better that you try to recover at home, where your child is comfortable, than at school where they really don’t want to be.

I’m sure your child’s teacher would appreciate it!

About Stuart Duncan

My name is Stuart Duncan, creator of http://www.stuartduncan.name. My oldest son (Cameron) has Autism while my younger son (Tyler) does not. I am a work from home web developer with a background in radio. I do my very best to stay educated and do what ever is necessary to ensure my children have the tools they need to thrive. I share my stories and experiences in an effort to further grow and strengthen the online Autism community and to promote Autism Understanding and Acceptance.

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2 Responses to Starting the School Year When Your Child Has Autism

  1. Multi-Testing Mommy August 30, 2011 at 9:38 am #

    Hi STuart! Love your blog! Some great tips in this article for sure.

    I’d love guest posts over at my place – if you’re interested in writing a post about sending your child off to school from your perspective – I’d love it!

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