Starting School Checklist
Whether it is your child’s first day starting in a new school or your child is about to return to school following the holidays; transitioning to school can be a stressful, anxiety inducing experience for many children with (and without Special Needs).
Children (and Adults) with Autism have greater difficulty with transitions compared to their neurotypical peers.
Children with Autism thrive on routine & structure. They often find the unpredictability of returning to (or starting) school to be overwhelming.
By their very nature, children with ASD have an inherent need for predictability, structure and routine.
You can help your child by implementing some Transition Strategies in the weeks prior to their start/return to school.
I have created a FREE PDF Starting School Checklist that you can download at the end of this post.
What is a Transition?
A Transition is a disruption to an expected, predictable pattern of behaviour, activity, routine or location that will require your child to adapt.
If not managed correctly; transitions can lead to (unexpected) inappropriate behaviours.
What are Transition Strategies?
You can help your son, daughter or student by implementing Transition Strategies.
Transition strategies can help to:
- reduce anxieties; bring a sense of calm.
- make the change in routine, behaviour, activity or location- somewhat more predictable for your son, daughter or student.
Below you will find some Transition to School Strategies I have used as tried & true over the years with each of my Autistic sons.
If you have any suggestions of what has worked for you, I would LOVE to hear them! Send me a DM over on INSTAGRAM and when I update this post next I will include your suggestions.
I have used this style of Calendar every Summer with both my school-age sons. It helps to give them a concrete sense of when school finishes and when it will begin again.
Each morning they go to the calendar as part of our daily routine and they place the correct picture on the correct date.
Read the full post to find out how to use it at home:
You can adapt the Visual Monthly Calendar Download to create a Weekly Visual Calendar of “School Days and Non-School Days”.
- Use the School/No School images by attaching them to a Calendar you already have in use.
‘Social stories are short, written stories, originally intended for children with autism, to help understand a small part of their social world and behave appropriately within it.
Each social story provides a child with clear, concise and accurate information about what is happening in a specific social situation, outlining both why it is happening and what a typical response might be’. (Smith, Caroline, ‘Writing and Developing Social Stories’, 2003
A Social Story is a story explaining what is expected to happen. The story is written from the child’s perspective usually in the 1st person (where appropriate). Be aware of the language used in the story ensuring it is tailored to the child’s language ability & understanding.
When I first wrote a Starting School social Story for Jack, he did not at that point understand the concept of pronouns such as “Me/I”, so I tailored it to suit his ability by writing it in the third person. Example “Jack is going to school”.
You can read more about how to creating a Social Story HERE.
Ideally you would read the Social Story with your child, every day in the weeks preceding the start/return to school.
Read at a time both you and the child are relaxed and engaged. You would also where possible use Visual Images and limit your language and story to only what is necessary.
Social Stories are an excellent tool to help alleviate some of the anxiety about starting/returning to school and help children understand and prepare for the upcoming event.
Morning / Evening Schedules
Whether your child has special needs or not, a Visual Schedule is an excellent way to bring order to their day in a clear concise way, in a way that they can understand. I have noticed that my son Jack’s anxiety abates when he knows what is happening for the day and what to expect.
Here you will find links to some FREE Daily Schedules to help your child or student.
A Visual Schedule gives each child a concrete understanding of what the day ahead will bring, helping them to understand the order the day will take.
Visit the school
If you haven’t already, VISIT your child’s school as often as you can. You could take a short trip in the car with the sole purpose of driving by the school, perhaps pulling to a stop and pointing out the school to your child.
With the School’s permission you could walk around the school’s grounds so your child becomes familiar with the school grounds.
If there is a playground you and your child could go there too as it’s a non-threatening environment and your child will hopefully associate these visits with positivity.
Your aim while visiting is to help your child become familiar with the school.
Before the holidays start for the Summer arrange for your child to meet his/her new teacher so he will become familiar with his teacher and also visit his new classroom.
With Jack we visited the school a few times before the school broke for the summer holidays. I took pictures of Jack in the school setting on our visits there so I could later use them in a Social Story to help prepare him.
SCHOOL CLOTHES / SHOES
In the weeks before your child starts/returns to school ensure they have worn their unform and school shoes.
Many children with Autism struggle with sensory issues around clothing/footwear. Have your child wear the items regularly so they become familiar with the feel of them. Offer lots of praise and encouragement when your child wears their uniform/school shoes. You want to make it a positive experience for your child.
Communication Passport / Transitioning to School Booklet
You can read in detail HERE what a Communication Passport is and how you can create your own.
If you can’t find the time to create your own, then check out my most recent addition to my online store where you can find a selection of Back to School resources including Communication Transitioning to School I will be using this resource with each of my boys returning to school this year.
Using a Communication Journal is essential between home & school.
It helps you and your child’s Teacher to build a strong Parent/Teacher relationship. It ensures both you and Teacher know how your child’s day/evening has been.
It is also an excellent means of communicating any important information that may crop up from time to time outside of the norm.
I hope you have found this post helpful. You can find your FREE SCHOOL CHECKLIST DOWNLOAD HERE.
As a parent be prepared for the first few weeks starting/returning to school to be rocky as your child settles into a new routine.
I would love to hear how your little ones get on starting school this year! Feel free to DM letting me know and if you found the School Checklist useful.