by Lizzy Engelman

As summer winds to an end, most parents and children begin the first day of school count down with mixed emotions. There is a paradox of parenting: long, unscheduled days of summer can make you feel like you have too much time alone with your kids, but there is also the sense that you don’t have enough time with them, that they grow too fast, and you wish it could all simply slow down. 

Typically, as August approaches, most families are eager for school routines, but for your child with autism, the idea of a new school year can seem daunting.

Transitions are often difficult for individuals with autism spectrum disorders (ASD), so here are some tips to help your child adjust to new teachers, new peers, and new classes.

  1. Tour the school and classes the week before school starts. Get your child’s schedule in advance, and walk the halls. Visit your child’s classroom and spend a little time sitting and making observations about the space. Often, schools host an open house; however, plan a quieter time to allow your child to feel familiar with the environment.
  • Request a parent-teacher meeting before the first day of school. Introducing your child to the teacher early will help both the teacher and child become better acquainted.
  • Write an introductory letter to your teacher describing your child’s strengths and struggles. Here’s a beautiful sample letter written by a mother regarding her son with autism: To My Autistic Son’s New Teacher
  • Make sure your teacher is aware of any accommodations your child requires such as the IEP or 504 Plan. Communicating early about accomodations will help the teacher be better prepared and it will also alleviate some of your concerns about the year ahead.
  • Buy new school clothes, shoes, and supplies early, and let your child get comfortable with these items weeks in advance. Break in the new shoes, and allow your child to tote the backpack around.
  • If your child requires bus transportation, contact the school and request to meet the driver. Perhaps you can introduce your child to him or her early.
  • Ask your teacher for a visual schedule. For example, if the classroom has centers for different activities throughout the day, ask the teacher to send you pictures of each center, including pictures of where PE takes place, recess, the cafeteria, and art. Then use the images to tell your child a story about the day, describing the types of activities he or she should expect.
  • Adjust to the school bedtime and morning routine weeks in advance. Walking to alarm clocks, breakfast, and getting dressed in time, are all skills you can practice to help you and your child feel more prepared.

Every milestone is accompanied by a little anxiety, but a positive and calm first day of school is in your reach when you plan early. Rehearse and practice the routines in advance, and you’ll have a far better first day. Wishing you and your family smooth transitions and a wonderful new school year!