Getting ready to start a new school year causes anxiety in most children; especially so for children on the ASD spectrum. As a parent, what should you be doing to help prepare your child for the highest level of success through this tricky transition?
Try the following tips to ease anxiety:
1. Visit the school beforehand with your child, especially his own classroom. If this isn't possible, see if you can visit alone and take some pictures, or ask the teacher to email you some pictures. A visual preparation of what to expect can make it easier to visualize and prepare mentally. Visit with the teacher if you can, and do a bit of a walkaround of the classroom. This is an ideal time to talk about your child's optimal learning environment with the teacher.
2. Try to obtain some of the curriculum and/or lessons that will be taught this year. If the teacher doesn't have this planned out yet, you can visit your State or Province's Department/Ministry of Education website; curriculum can be either downloaded or ordered. In Ontario, you can download the curriculum (by subject or by grade) at http://www.edu.gov.on.ca/eng/curriculum/elementary/grades.html, or click on "Publications" to have them send the books to you at no cost. You will need to order each subject. Having the curriculum at hand allows you to pre-teach, making school a little more predictable.
3. Drive the bus route a few times to practise. Many school boards send around a bus route list. Drive the whole route, including having your child get into the car where he/she will be catching the bus. Borrow a few neighbourhood kids to make it a little more realistic. If your child is younger, he/she may carry a picture of the school bus along this ride to generalise a little easier.
4. Write a social story about what to expect, acknowledging feelings of anxiety, and providing some illustrated examples for reducing anxiety throughout the day (deep breathing, square breathing, Tony Attwood's toolbox, etc). Visit www.fullspectrumlearning.ca/resources.html for some examples. Try to include real photos of the school in the story, and script out the major transitions throughout the day - arrival, getting to the classroom, going to the washroom, lunch, recess, and return hom. Read the story daily, and talk about what might happen. If there are specific anxieties, write social stories for those as well.
5. See if you can arrange for an earlier or later start time on the first few days. Sometimes, the commotion of the first few days, especially at arrival time, can be overwhelming. At the very least, try to arrange a quiet spot for your child to wait as soon as he gets there to avoid some of the chaos.
What have you done to ease school transition and create success? Please click on our forums above to share your ideas, or post a comment to this blog!
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Casey Burgess has a B.Sc.in Psychology, an M.A. in Education (Curriculum and Instruction), and a Ph.D. in progress in Education (Cognition and Learning). She has 20 years experience with direct service, curriculum development, workshop facilitation, and supervisory experience supporting children who have Autism Spectrum Disorders, and their families. She currently frames her work using a developmental, relationship-based, self-regulation lens.