Prepare, Share, Repeat: Create a Back-to-School Routine for Children With Autism

Taking pictures and creating a social story for your child can help prepare them for their first day.

Taking pictures and creating a social story for your child can help prepare them for their first day.

Going back to school is exciting whether you’re entering kindergarten or the last year of high school. However, returning to the classroom can also be stressful, especially for the approximately 1 in 88 U.S. children living with autism spectrum disorders.

Autism is often characterized by differences in social interactions, communication and behaviors, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Experts predict there will be 4 million Americans coping with autism within the next 10 years. With this rising number, schools are rapidly implementing autism programs, resources and support for parents, students and teachers.

Sherry Sancibrian, M.S., CCC-SLP, professor and program director in the Department of Speech, Language and Hearing Sciences, says parents and teachers can help put students with special needs at ease this school year by planning ahead.

“We all find comfort in the familiar, but for the individual with autism spectrum disorder, change can be especially stressful, so early preparation is key,” Sancibrian said.

Visiting the school building and playground ahead of time can help your child start their first day with a mental image of the setting, according to Pathfinders for Autism. If possible, arrange to visit the teacher before the first day and ask to show your child his or her desk or locker.

Parents may also want to take pictures and integrate them into a social story about what their children can expect during the school day, Sancibrian said.

Social stories are step-by-step instructions with pictures that are read once or twice daily. Social stories can be used for most situations, and in this case, they may help children prepare to wake up early or catch and ride the bus.

“A social story provides a ‘script’ that tells children what to expect and helps to reduce anxiety about the unknown,” Sancibrian said.

Other ways to help your child prepare for school include:

  • Creating a back-to-school calendar with a countdown each day until the new semester starts
  • Playing school at home to demonstrate how school works and what will go on while he or she is there.
  • Waking your child a little earlier each day to prepare for earlier mornings
  • Getting school supplies in advance so your child can get used to them
  • Keeping any favorite school supplies from last year
  • Color coding notebooks and materials for different classes to help your child identify and keep materials together
  • Getting school clothes and shoes early and washing them many times
  • Cutting off clothing labels, if your child is used to this
  • Selecting a stylish first-day outfit ahead of time to help your child make a good first impression

For more tips and information about autism resourcesin West Texas, contact the South Plains Autism Network.

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