How To Help Your Child When They Start School
Starting school can be a stressful time for any child, but the combination of a change in routine, new sensory experiences and a lack of understanding from others can make the day overwhelming for a child with autism.
Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) affects how the brain develops, which means children with the condition have trouble with communication and social interaction. Intellectual disability, motor coordination difficulties, repetitive behaviours and physical health issues such as sleep disturbances are often associated with ASD.1 However, at the other end of the spectrum there are people with average to high IQs who excel in music, maths or art. This includes those with Asperger’s syndrome.2
There are a number of things you can do to help minimise the stress for your child, encourage a good relationship with the school and to ensure your little one has the support they need.
Creating a Good Relationship with the School
It’s really important to build a strong relationship with the school to ensure your child receives the best support possible. Every child is different, so everything should be tailored to their individual needs and personality.
Your child’s class teacher and SENCO (Special Educational needs Co-ordinator)3 are important people to talk to as they will have most contact with your child at school. Book regular meetings with them to discuss any problems and suggest solutions, and give them a profile of your child before their first day.
Information about your child’s personality, communication styles, likes, dislikes, interest and triggers can help teachers get to know them better and hopefully avoid difficult situations. If you feel comfortable providing them, copies of reports or assessments can further help them understand your child’s needs. The SENCO will also be the person who arranges for a Speech Therapist or Occupational Therapist to visit the school if your child needs one.
Regular contact can be achieved with a home-school log book or diary, with daily updates on your child’s progress. Having written documentation of all communication between you and the school is often helpful to chart progress.
If you can, attend school events to see your child in that environment, as you may come up with suggestions or solutions to issues that the teachers haven’t thought of. Celebrating your child’s achievements through parents’ evenings and prize giving ceremonies is a great way to encourage them at school.
Preparing your Child for Starting School
Being organised and preparing your child for the start of school can help them transition much more easily and become more comfortable with the new routines.
Try slowly introducing the everyday items they will need for school so they can become familiar with them and reduce their anxiety about new things. Leave items such as school clothes, lunch box and school bag out in a visible area so they become used to seeing them.4
Introducing them to the school itself is another good idea. Walk or drive past the school regularly so that it becomes part of their routine to go past it. If possible, visiting the grounds out of hours will let them adjust to the new environment.
Making a visual storybook of the school routine with photos of the classroom and teacher can help them better understand what to expect and ease anxiety about the unknown.4
Practice Makes Perfect
Practising elements of the school routine will help the child feel more comfortable and can help to flag up problem areas.
Try getting your child to wear their school uniform or eat out of their lunchbox. If problems arise, such as the clothes being itchy or them not liking the lunchbox, often simple solutions can be helpful: cutting clothes labels out, trying other fabrics, having the family eat out of lunchboxes together or eating their favourite food out of the lunchbox can all be effective.4
After their first day, try not to ask them too many questions as they may be feeling overwhelmed. Give them extra time after coming home to settle themselves and to respond to instructions.
Settling in to a new school will take time but with patience, organisation and constant communication, can be a rewarding experience for any child with autism.