The move from a tightly structured preschool setting to an elementary school can seem overwhelming. Will your autistic child really be able to handle the changes? Will the new routine throw them off? Are they capable of this new level of independence?
You’d be surprised at what your child can do with the right preparation. Here are several ways you can make this transition a success.
- Show and tell
Let your child know what is going to happen. And yes, you can do this even if they have NO spoken language skills.
Get images of the actual classroom, school building and teacher, craft a “Social Story” that will familiarize your child with her new surroundings.
Two weeks before the start of the term. Earlier than that, any information you give them will be meaningless, because too much time will pass before that information becomes reality. What you CAN do is leave the booklets lying around the house where your child will see them. This will start gently familiarizing them with the images without active explaining. Then, when the start date is approaching, your child’s brain will be primed to accept the new information.
You can also purchase simple picture books on the topic, such as Going to School by Usborne First Experiences.
No amount of talking or showing will help if they don’t have practice! The best way to get rid of the anxiety is to actually DO the school routine several times before school starts. Wake them up early, get them dressed, and drive them to see the school.
Want to be able to relive the practice? Take a video of the whole routine and have your child watch it several times.
This leads us to the next, related step:
- Sensory Preparation
Don’t wait until the last minute to buy their school things. New clothes and accessories like backpacks can be very overwhelming for the heightened sensory issues. Get everything early and let your child slowly get used to the new sensations.
Have them wear the new clothes and shoes for a small amount of time each day, and slowly increase that until they feel completely comfortable with everything.
Pro Tip: If your child’s school has a uniform, you may want to get second-hand uniforms, which will be softer and not as stiff as a new set.
Also have your child handle the materials she’ll be using at school – pencils, notebooks, paper, and so on.
- Make a Sequence
Write down all the things your child will need to do when getting ready for school. Make sure to prepare everything needed in a set place each night.
Pack her lunch box each night and put it in the fridge. Put her school shoes by the door and her clothing by her bed.
Take photos and make a visual plan of the morning routine. Hang it up in her room and the kitchen so it’s right in front of her as she prepares for school.
- Plan a Safe Place
Especially in the beginning, the new environment may be very overwhelming for your child. Make sure to reach out to the teacher about a safe place where he can orient himself whenever necessary.
If your child is non verbal, make him a help cardand teach him to show that card when he feels overwhelmed or frustrated. This can be a great way for him to let the teacher know he needs some time in his safe space.
Safe Space Idea:
- Beanbag chair in a corner of the room or in the office. Keep a supply of stimulation toys and books there.
- Small tent or enclosed hammock/pod in a corner of the room
- Social Training
Increase your child’s ability to handle the social challenges of school by exposing him/her to various social situations in the months before school. This includes trips to the park or setting up play dates.
- Get a pet – research shows that having a pet improves social skills in autistic children. Why? They learn to form an emotional bond in a non-threatening way.
- Compile a video of children displaying desirable behaviors. Seeing the scenes played out in front of them makes it easier for your child to mimic the proper behavior.
- Act out potential scenarios with your child and coach them on how to respond.
- Involve him in activities and games where he needs to take the lead. There is no better way to get the gears in his brain turning and help him figure out, on his own, effective techniques for communicating with peers.
- Get a Tracker!
Elementary/primary school children are allowed greater independence than preschool students. Nervous about letting them off the leash? It’s an unavoidable part of growing up. But you can make it less worrisome with a Lil Tracker GPS Tracker Watch.
A tracker watch allows your child to be independent without sacrificing their safety. Again, make sure to let your child wear the watch for increasing increments of time each day until they are comfortable with it.
These GPS Tracker Watches are simple and easy to use, and they even allow you to communicate with your child anytime!
Put these tips into action and you can feel confident in your child’s ability to succeed and thrive in their new environment. Seems like to much for you to fit into your jam-packed schedule? Start with one small thing – such as getting a tracker, or buying the school shoes – and take the rest one day at a time.