Often I am asked for autism starting school advice.
The School journey for children begins again in less than a week. For most the start of school life or the return for another year brings excitement, anticipation, a few nerves at best.
For autistic children this can be an increasingly daunting time, knowing the start of the new school term is fast approaching, it is a transition point that autistic children may need support to manage.
Autism Starting School Advice
If your child is starting school for the first time, both of you may be feeling anxious and nervous right now about what may lay ahead.
You can be proactive, and you can help support and prepare your child for the transition to school for the first time or the return to school after the holidays.
How can I help prepare my child starting school?
♥If your child is expected to wear a uniform, ensure he or she has worn it prior to starting school, so that it will not come as a shock on the morning of school that he/she will have to wear it instead of their regular clothes.
If your child’s sensory differences means he may find wearing a uniform intolerable check in with the school as to whether there is an alternative uniform he/she could wear that would be acceptable. My own little man Conor can not tolerate the harsh feeling of the school shirts and heavy jumpers so he wears his School crested tracksuit as his uniform everyday to school.
♥Visit the school this week a few times if you can. In all likelihood your child will have already had his/her first visit back in June, however to ensure he/she is comfortable, a few trips over and back to the actual school this week will help to calm nerves and anxiety. We did the same with Conor the week before he was due to start, this really helped settle his anxiety on the first day as he knew where he was going and knew the layout of the school.
♥Create a Social Story/Visual Schedule explaining visually all about starting school. You can make a social story your self through Microsoft Word including pictures of your child’s school, teacher, bus driver (include words too if you think they will help) etc so they will visually understand what is happening when he/she starts school.
A Visual Schedule is an excellent way to explain to your child what will happen on a school day, for example Conor’s schedule shows him from the moment he gets up to going to school, how he gets there, when school is over how he gets home and then the rest of the day is planned out. The visual schedule we use is a daily one, as it helps him to know what is happening in the short term.
♥Create an All About Me Booklet / Communication Passport for the school which will detail everything of importance about your son/daughter that you want them to know. This booklet is there for them to refer back to so they can better understand your child and help him progress to his fullest potential. I have created an excellent selection of resources over on www.littlepuddinsprints.com to support autistic people starting school.
It would be useful to create a version of this booklet also for the Bus Driver/ the Bus Escort and the SNA as they will also be taking care of your little one.
♥Ensure you have contact details for the school/bus driver/bus escort/SNA to hand and ensure they have yours readily available.
♥Find out from the school what your child’s day structure at school will be like so you can explain this to your little one, helping to reduce anxiety.
♥Ensure that transportation has been set up for your child, you can ring the school to find out or alternatively CIE. Where Conor goes to school the principal organizes all the transportation needs for the children, dealing directly with CIE on their behalf. You need to check with your school what their policy is as regards transportation.
♥You will need to have a Communication Book, this is a hardback notebook or copy in which you will write down any messages you want to give to the teacher/SNA. Similarly the teacher will leave messages for you everyday about how your little one got on that day at school together with general school information you may need to be made aware of.
♥Label all of your child’s belongings. As most young children may not recognize their own name written down yet. I have found it useful to print off Conor’s picture and using clear contact film or cellotape I attach his picture to his belongings so he knows they belong to him wherever I can. When I can’t do that for example with clothing i stitch on his initials so at-least the school will know.
♥Practice opening/closing lunch boxes/drink bottles prior to school starting. Many children with special needs need help with fine & gross motor skills, if this is the case with your child consider practicing opening their pencil case/lunch bag at home. If they are having issues with the zipper I found that by adding some grosgrain ribbon to the zipper finding really helped Conor open the zips himself.
♥Sensory Diet/Physiotherapy– if your child requires any of these therapies during the day be sure to include a copy of these with the All About Me Booklet so that his SNA/Teacher will know his requirements and what helps him best during the day.
♥Talk to the Teacher/SNA/Bus Driver/Escort- make it a point to speak to all of the aforementioned about your child, including any information you think is pertinent for them to know that they may not already be aware of. On a day to day basis ensure you have open lines of communication with the aforementioned.
♥Be organized – keep a folder at home to house any paperwork you are given by the school for example IEP paperwork, Term schedules, notices/contact details, so that when needed you have them all in one organized place.
Children returning to School/Changing Schools-
The above checklist I have created for autistic children starting school is also an excellent resource for children returning to school and/or changing schools. In Conor’s case he is going into his second year of primary school in a few days time and I intend to follow all of the steps as mentioned altering them where applicable depending on how his needs have changed.
♥Follow the Starting School Checklist Above- as it is all still relevant to your child and helping to reduce anxiety/fear around transitions and change. Adapt the steps were appropriate for your child and their needs.
♥Look over your child’s IEP (Individualized Education Plan), you will need to ensure that all measures outlined in your child’s plan will be catered for in the coming school year. You can check in with the Schools’ IEP Coordinator, to ascertain that all services are in place for the coming year.
♥New teacher– If you child is to have a new teacher do not presume that because you made an All about me booklet last year, this teacher will have been given a copy. Make a new updated version for your child’s new teacher.
♥Create a summary of what your child did over the summer include any special day trips, activities/holidays that were taken over the course of the summer.
♥Have a notebook to hand for keeping track of calls to and from the school, other relevant departments with regard to your child so you can have all the information readily available if necessary.
My little man Conor is 5 and as such is not going to secondary school for many years to come. I have found useful information about starting secondary schools over at the ASIAM website and you can find a link to that information here.
If you are having concerns at any stage about your child’s time at school, always speak up, as the school may not even be aware there is a problem, so always bring it to their attention, following through until it is dealt with.
Checkout my upcoming Parent & Professional Training & Workshops for additional advice and support.