Throughout the summer, your child probably enjoyed going to the beach, being with their friends and family, or simply playing outdoors. Although they no doubt had fun, their daily routines were likely very different from the majority of the year, and having them return for a new school year will be challenging. For children with special needs, all changes, whether positive or negative, can be hugely difficult.
One of the most stressful times for autism parents every year is sending their child back to school – or sending them to school for the first time. Along with the logistical preparations with the school and purchasing supplies, autism parents also have to prepare their children, who are often very resistant to change.
The AngelSense mothers, who have all been through this process, got together to share some of their top tips for preparing special needs children for the new school year:
- Create a countdown to school calendar
After a long summer of freedom, it’s hard to get our kids out of vacation mode and into back-to-school mode. Creating a personal visual countdown calendar with your child will help ease the transition into the school year, and get them more excited about seeing their friends and teachers. Letting your child mark the calendar will be a daily reminder for them of when they should expect to return to school. This is also a fun and creative activity, and can be a great bonding experience with your child. Be sure to include school related images, and use crayons, markers and cutout pictures.
- Introduce your child to their school
Whether moving up a grade or starting a new school entirely, the first day of school can be especially challenging for children with special needs. Because adjusting to change isn’t easy for them, our children might be reluctant to go back to school. Find out if you are allowed to bring your child to their first day to introduce them to this new environment. Some school districts even have a locker day, and allow parents to take their children to school, usually a week before, to meet their teachers, fellow students, new classes and safe zones in the school. It’s also an opportunity for them to organize their desk and locker, and build their excitement to start school the following week.
- Get your child involved
Sometimes as parents, we are reluctant to give into the consumeristic desires of our children. However, sometimes a little incentive or bribery goes a long way. Consider allowing your child to choose a lunch box and backpack with their favorite cartoon character on it. Maybe you should count this as an early birthday or Christmas present. This will get them excited to go back and show their gear to everyone in class. On their first day back, allow your kids to help select their clothes, pack their lunch together with you, and let them choose a small toy to bring to class.
- Add additional structure to their daily routine
During summer vacation, our children are used to later nights and later mornings, and are distracted with the fun activities in between. Breaking this summer routine for the school year is not easy. The last month of summer is an ideal time to start preparing for this by gradually waking your children earlier each day, while putting them to bed earlier as well. The 4 a.m. wake up might be inevitable in this process, however, the payoff will be rewarding. By the last week before they return to school, you should already establish firm bedtimes.
- Create a visual social storybook
Children with autism have trouble understanding specific social interactions with others. This is another creative, hands-on project to do with your child. A social story book lays out various social situations that your special needs child may encounter throughout their school day, while highlighting interactions with teachers, therapists and friends. The book will help them understand what it means to go back to school and what they should expect. If you’re looking to make a polished, but still personal book, online services like Shutterfly are great tools to create and bound your book with all the bells and whistles.
In addition to the activities above, you may also want to start reading them age appropriate back-to-school stories before bed. This is a great time to snuggle, reinforce their feelings of safety in relation to school, and sow positive seeds for sweet dreams, hopefully about an amazing first day back-to-school.
The mothers mentioned in this article are all AngelSense expert users and customer care specialists. AngelSense creates a safer world for children with special needs, with a wearable GPS tracking and listening device, a web app and smart analytics. For more information visit us online at www.angelsense.com.