So, summer break is over. You’ve crossed out everything on your child’s back-to-school supply list, and now it’s just a matter of waiting. Maybe you’ve gotten a head start on preparing your child for their school year by putting them on a stricter schedule, taking a tour of the school, etc. You and your child may be experiencing that back-to-school anxiety that runs rampant around this time of year. However, as a parent of a child on the autism spectrum, you might be struggling with a few extra worries.
As an individual on the autism spectrum, I’m familiar with the excessive anxiety we confront with each new school year. I’m in my junior year of college, but I still form a strategy for each semester. Whether your child is entering elementary school or college, these tips may be of some help to you both:
1. Create a Study Space. Make the space as distraction-free as possible. That means no TV, video games, toys, or anything else that will pull the eyes away from homework and study materials. When your child is studying, it’s also good to set a timer for studying and breaks. The routine and familiarity of a study space can improve focus and lessen stress.
2. Create a Schedule. Routine is extremely important for individuals on the spectrum. A visual schedule can make all the difference in the world. Personally, I have an hour-by-hour schedule for every day, including weekends. I write down class times, meal times, free time, or anything else I can think of. When your child knows what to expect, they’re a lot less likely to be anxious.
3. Prepare for Social Interaction. Rehearse introductions and small talk. I can’t stress this enough. I often spent the first week of school unable to talk to teachers or peers. I wasted countless hours trying to figure out how to start conversations, and since my parents were unaware of my ASD, the best I managed was directly asking people if they wanted to be friends. Practice some ways to break the ice with peers to take some of the pressure off.
4. Keep Sensory Differences in Mind. The texture of clothing can be distracting for some on the spectrum, so it might be a good idea to wash uniforms several times beforehand and cut out any tags that might scrape against your child’s skin. I’ve found that sensory toys can be helpful in the classroom, as long as it isn’t distracting to the child or peers. Sensory overload isn’t completely avoidable, so it’s best to give your child a chance to rest after the school day.
5. Discuss Your Child’s Needs with Teachers. Make sure that each of your child’s teachers knows what to expect. Give them the warning signs for sensory overload and oncoming meltdowns. Not all teachers are very familiar with Autism Spectrum Disorder, and each child is different. Your child may not be able to vocalize what he or she needs.
6. Most Importantly: Be Proud! Your child has the potential to do great things this year. It could be bringing home a gold star, finally working up the courage to make a new friend, or learning something new and exciting. Maybe this is the year they finally speak up in class, or the year they learn to raise their hand before they speak. Be sure to show your pride. Children on the spectrum can often feel awkward and left out, and you have the power to boost their confidence.