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Autism Spectrum Disorder: Setting up for back-to-school success

Children walking into school

Starting a new school year is exciting but can also be a bit frightening. While this is true for all children, it can be heightened for kids with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). Predictability and routine are very important for children with ASD. Here are 6 ideas to help your child feel prepared before the first day of school.

Get a tour of the school and if possible, meet your child’s teacher. This is critical - especially if it’s the first year at a new school. When you do the school tour with your kiddo, take pictures or videos of key areas (lunchroom, their locker, restrooms, resource room, etc.) If they will have a locker that locks, practice opening it and discuss where they will keep the combination so it’s easily accessible.

Practice the school day routine leading up to the first day. Around 7-10 days before school begins, start utilizing the school day schedule as far as wake-up time and bedtime. Going from relaxed summer days to very structured school days will be easier if you have practiced the routine for several days.

Talk to your child about their back-to-school concerns, as well as what they are looking forward to in this school year. Practicing social interactions can prime them to engage with their classmates if this is an area of challenge for them.

Make getting ready fun! Include your child in getting school supplies, some new sensory-friendly clothing and even some new sensory items or fidgets. They may also want to set out their clothes the night before to streamline the morning. A visual schedule for what needs to be done on school mornings may also help keep them on track.

Use the new school year as a time to develop independence and new skills. Is your child ready to start packing their own lunch? Guide them through making food choices and preparing their meal. This may take extra time, so have your child do what they can the night before and finish in the morning. This may also be a way you can assure they will eat their lunch!

Creating a social story that reviews their day can be helpful for kids that like visual support. Ask their teacher what the activities will be for the first week and go over that with your child by practicing and discussing those activities.

As parents, you can’t anticipate all the new experiences for your child’s upcoming school year. But some preparation and practice can reduce stress for your child as they begin a new year with new opportunities to learn and grow, setting them up for a school year of success!

Additional Resources:

Community Education Coordinator

Autism Division of Developmental and Behavioral Health