Monday, July 11, 2011

Back to School Anxiety - Helping Your Autistic Child Transition Back to School

There is nothing better than a break from work and time to enjoy a week or two of summer vacation. Whether it is sitting on the beach with your favorite book, hiking up a mountain and breathing in clean mountain air, or finally getting to that new home project you've been planning to tackle, the change of pace is always refreshing. As parents, you appreciate any time off from work that you can get and welcome such schedule changes as an opportunity to experience a freedom from routine and a time to recharge your batteries. Unfortunately, time off is temporary and we eventually have to transition back into the workplace.

Children experience their summer school vacation break in a similar manner. Therefore, one can empathize with the reluctance they may express to "go back to work" after an extended period of free time. Children on the autism spectrum take even longer to adjust to a change in schedule and many may just be getting comfortable with their new summer schedule when suddenly it is time to make yet another shift in routine. Recurring change is the enemy of most autistic children and can cause stress levels to rise and anxieties to increase causing much friction and unrest in their households.

On the other hand, there are a few autistic children who actually look forward to going back to school, and transition well despite having to adjust to another new schedule. Regardless of the category your child falls into, planning ahead, being prepared and knowing your child will help guarantee a smooth transition. Understanding how your child adjusts to change will help you decide how soon you need to begin the process. As that time approaches, here are some tips to keep in mind:

  • Make scheduling adjustments to daily routines, such as bedtime, well in advance. Ease into any new adjustment by starting with small increments of time.
  • Hold a family meeting weeks before school starts to discuss and plan for the transition. If you've never held a family meeting before this is a great time to start.
  • Begin to curtail screen machine privileges at least two weeks prior to the start of school. Establish TV, video and computer use rules and stick to them.
  • Set up a positive attitude when discussing the upcoming school year. If your child is not enthused about returning, focus on events they find interesting such as, sports or music.
  • Increase trips to the library or start now if you haven't been yet. Reading is key to any child's school success and extremely important to maintain. Daily reading with your child will give him/her a boost.
  • If your child is anxious about the new school year contact the school and make an appointment to visit and meet with the new teacher. The opportunity to go over schedules and expectations as well as the chance to ask questions without other students around can provide an autistic child a great sense of relief.
  • Involve your child in the planning and purchasing of school supplies, with their own money if possible. Make a list of school supplies together; estimate a budget and shop within it.

Just acknowledging the anxiety is the first step to making the transition easier for your child and your family. Planning ahead, being prepared and having a positive attitude will help you and your child have a smooth sail back to school.

I invite you to receive a free copy of "Parenting a Child with Autism - 3 Secrets to Thrive" by visiting Connie Hammer is a licensed social worker who focuses on supporting parents of young children recently diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder.

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