Countdown to School

Editor’s Note: The following article was written by Kathy Dolbee, Parent Advocate for the Autism Society of North Carolina.

As the summer toys move to the clearance aisle to make room for the arrival of back-to-school supplies, many parents face the back-to-school transition with mixed emotions.

While we optimistically look forward to the routine and predictability a regular school schedule imposes, the start of a new school year can also mean anxiety for both students and parents.

To help ease the transition, begin establishing a few routines now:

• Post a calendar in a central location and mark the first day of school.
• Write a social story, giving your child information about the upcoming change in schedule.
• Make an appointment for your child to meet his new teacher and see his new classroom. Mark that date on the calendar also.
• Prior to meeting the teacher, take time to collect your thoughts and write a brief profile of your child, making sure to include both his strengths and challenges. Let her know what your child’s anxiety indicators are and how best to calm him.
• Make a list of needed school supplies and, if possible, allow your child to participate in the process. This might include accompanying you to the store, shopping online or in a catalog, or just crossing items off the list as they are purchased.
• Establish a regular, reasonable bedtime routine. While it is true that Daylight Savings Time can make it tough to feel sleepy in summertime, a bedtime routine does not necessarily mean going to sleep right away.
• Establish a structured, visual morning routine that increases your child’s independence and decreases his need for verbal prompting. (Who wants to be nagged first thing in the morning?)
• Re-introduce the use of a schedule, by planning and noting favorite activities. Gradually insert additional tasks to be finished prior to the favorite activity. Be patient, this is a weaning process.

Initially your child may resist your efforts to establish such routines, but he is more likely to comply if the routine is pleasurable and consistent. Many children really enjoy setting their own alarm clock to a favorite radio station; a warm bath, a favorite book or magazine to read, and quiet time prior to “lights out” work well for many kids.

Studies show that children feel secure and are happiest when their world makes sense to them. Consistent routines and structure helps to accomplish this. Studies also indicate that many kids with ASD struggle with some degree of executive function impairment. If your child has difficulty with organization, keeping track of his possessions, and structuring his time, becoming his personal secretary will not help him in the long run. Instead, build structure into his environment and use consistent visual prompts.

Establish and maintain routines and see your child’s independence, self-control and self-reliance increase. Countdown to school begins now!

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2 Responses

  1. It would be great if there were articles on back to school for parents of HFA children who are at the high school level and/or attending college for the first time. Parents also need to know that once their child reaches 18, all the supports drop off the face of the earth. If you live in eastern NC, parents will find it a desolate wasteland. I have befriended a collegue at work whose son is HFA and a senior at a local high school. She found, as did I, that supports are non existant, and feels pressured to throw her hands up in the air and put him on SSI for the rest of his life. When in reality, he wants to go to college. I will do every in my power to see to it that this young man goes to college. Had my husband and I thrown our hands up, my son would not possess, not 1 but 2 degrees that he worked hard to get. There are no scholarships, the Autism supports, ASNC and Autism Speaks do not have any scholarships for post secondary education. This is the reality. Children with autism do grow up to be adults with autism.

  2. Looks like Charleston, SC has it going on with college for those with everything from Downs to Aspergers Syndrome.

    http://www.postandcourier.com/news/2011/aug/21/disabled-reach-college-dreams/

    How many parents with ASD in NC have a dream of their child entering college upon graduation from high school? Let’s not leave ASD young adults living a life in their bedroom on SSI. Life is possible.

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