For some students, including many with autism spectrum disorders (ASD), “back to school” may generate either excitement as they anticipate a return to a comfortable routine (for many, the lack of structure during a vacation can be very difficult), or apprehension as they contemplate new, and perhaps unknown, details such as schedules, classmates, teachers, and more.
Following are just a few suggestions for helping students ease back into the school routine after a summer (or other) break:
1. Start the routine before it’s needed. Don’t wait until the night before school starts to set an earlier bedtime (or an earlier wake-up time the next morning). Begin easing into the school schedule a couple of weeks before school starts. And consider adding other elements that will be present once school starts, perhaps breakfast at an earlier time, and some late afternoon “homework”—working on flashcards, creative writing, household chores, etc. as a way to prepare for upcoming academic pursuits.
2. Provide students with as much information as possible about the upcoming transition. Can you visit the classroom and meet the teacher? Have a play-date with one or two new classmates? Practice getting on and off a school bus? Drive the route from home to school (and back)? Get a copy of the schedule, and help familiarize the student with it? This type of information—especially the hands-on variety—can ease a lot of anxiety and prepare students for what lies ahead.
3. Enlist necessary assistance. Do you need to write a letter to your child’s teacher to help that person better understand your child? Perhaps you can discuss your child’s sensory needs with an occupational therapist to line up some strategies for dealing with increased sensory difficulties with the return to school. Are there other parents who can provide valuable information about the school routine, or strategies they’ve used to help their children acclimate to a new school year? (Parents, administrators, and teachers may benefit from my coaching services, receiving personalized assistance via phone, email, Skype, or in person in West Michigan. Together we can brainstorm practical strategies for helping students to transition successfully).
I’m sure that many of you reading this article have additional suggestions for easing back into the school routine. I hope you’ll share those here. Other readers will benefit from your experience and creative ideas!