Preparing an Autistic Child for School

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The end of July brings back vivid memories of preparing my autistic daughter for the new school year.  Even though you wouldn’t look at my daughter now and quickly realize that she is labelled autistic, as an experienced mother I went through many years of teaching and preparing my kids for a new school year.  Children and teens with autism going to school often need repetition in their days.  Helping to prepare them for school makes for an easier year ahead.  Preparing an autistic child for school doesn’t have to be difficult, it can sometimes be fun and give you and your child quality time together. 

Preparing an autistic child for school  can ease frustration and anxiety in children.  Routines, visuals, and cues can help.

Review Learning

Many children with autism find going back to school easier if they are reviewing their academic studies during the summer months.  Educational textbooks and flashcards are helpful to any child or teen.  Textbooks and flashcards assist in the reassurance of an autistic child feeling confident in their continued learning.  Singing songs for phonics, simple math problems, and educational games or puzzles keep children interested in the learning process.  Click here to find flashcards for various grade levels.

Uniforms and Accessories

My daughter has always felt better in and around certain colors.  Children with autism relate to calming colors like blue.  If you let your child pick their school t-shirt colors, backpack, and lunch box it helps them feel better about their time at school.  Let your child help or watch you put their name on clothing, backpacks, and lunch boxes so they know that these items are for them. 

In addition to allowing autistic children to pick colors they may have a hard time with long sleeves, short sleeves, closed toed shoes, and other school uniform issues.  Preparing an autistic child for school may consist of gradually dressing your child in school style clothing and tennis shoes or items that the school will allow.  Don’t forget to remove labels and tags that bother an autistic child with sensory issues. 

For more learning and education:

Reading

Read to and with your child or teen regularly.  Even teenagers who have trouble with comprehension need to be read with.  Younger children can be read books about school, bullying, counting, rhyming, etc.  Teenage children can pick books that fit their comprehension level or slightly above so they can read with you and grow their reading and comprehension abilities.  Older children and teens tend to feel embarrassed about reading with an adult, but if you make it a habit in your household, it becomes a normal activity for any child. 

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School Visuals

If you have a child or teen who cannot speak you can use visuals to prepare an autistic child for school.  Visuals can include pictures of the school, the teacher, the educational assistant, the bus driver, lunch cafeteria, and anything else that may make your child feel at ease.  I encourage taking as many visuals to help the child feel better.  Using visuals to help the child throughout their day with where they will be and who they will see keeps anxiety and frustrations low.  Actual pictures of people, places, and activities are much better than stock photos.

School Visits

Visit the school when no one is around.  Point out the school to your child so they are familiar with where they will be.  If you have a younger child, then visiting the playground multiple times helps them become comfortable with their settings.  Walk through the school halls or view the child’s classroom before the first day of school. 

Communication

Use a communication book or folder that allows you and your child or teen to write their school schedule.  If your child cannot speak or write you can use visuals in the book or folder that help the child or teen remember their schedule.  Preparing an autistic child for school means that you are giving them communication tools in their daily routine.  The child or teen can use the communication book or folder to ask questions or receive progress reports from the teacher or assistant when needed.  Some teachers will keep a visual schedule in the class for the students who need them. 

Morning Routine

The morning routine is an important part in preparing an autistic child for school.  Weeks before school starts begin by waking your child or teen at a specific time that allows them enough time to get ready for the day.  Go through the morning routine of showering or cleaning up, brushing their hair, brushing their teeth, eating a decent breakfast, having their school supplies ready, and reviewing the daily schedule.  Some morning activities are harder for children with autism like brushing their hair or teeth.  Using a kitchen timer or setting multiple alarms on a phone can help to keep an older child or teen on task.  Finally, if your child will take the bus, then take walks to the bus stop to prepare them for the first day of school. 

Evening Routine

The evening routine is just as important as the morning routine.  The evening routine may involve bath time, reading a book, preparing lunch and school supplies, and a required bedtime hour.  Bedtime isn’t always ideal to a parent with children who have autism because they don’t sleep as much or as often as other children.  However, keeping anxiety and frustrations low are important so that the child feels in control of what will happen the next day.  Reminders of who the child will see the next day visually or verbally can be helpful to a child or teen. 

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