Opinion: Smooth Back-to-School Transition Critical for Children with Autism

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Elementary school students circle around a giant redwood tree. Courtesy California State Parks

By Michele Stone

Back to school time is right around the corner. This is an exciting time for families, but can also cause some added stress and anxiety, especially for children with autism and other special needs.

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Fortunately, there are several things that parents can do to help their children happily transition back to school.

1. Prepare Well in Advance

Fear of the unknown causes everyone to get a little anxious. Begin talking to your child well in advance of returning to school. Look at a calendar together and note when school will be starting. For some children, a social story or video that talks about what will happen when school starts can be helpful.

2. Tour The School

If possible, go to your child’s school with them and walk around campus. Allow them to see their classroom, the lunch room, playground, etc. Point out the fun things they can do on campus. Even if they’re returning to the same campus as last year, a familiarization tour can go a long way to reducing stress!

3. Get to Know Your Teacher

Many children can be helped by getting to know who their teacher will be. Some teachers will be willing to meet with your child before school starts. If this is not available, most schools can provide a photo of your child’s teacher. Use the picture or meeting to tell your child what you know about their teacher. Perhaps help your child create a small gift, letter or drawing that they can give to their teacher on the first day of class.

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4. Practice Homework Time

One of the most difficult things about going back to school is that your daily routine will change. This can be especially difficult when also paired with anxiety over new experiences. Parents can help their children prepare for these changes by gradually introducing some “homework” time in the weeks leading up to the start of school. Provide small worksheets or craft projects for your child to work on so they can begin to get in the habit of working on something when they get home from school. Building this routine before school starts will make the transition much easier.

5. Begin The Morning Routine

Another challenging part of going back to school is getting up earlier and completing a morning routine. This is another area that parents can start prepping for before school starts. If your child has been in the habit of sleeping in late over the summer, begin gradually waking up earlier a few weeks before school starts. Establish some morning routine habits in those weeks so that once school starts things are running smoothly.

Although this can be a stressful time of year for both parents and children, it doesn’t have to be. With some forethought and preparation, going back to school can be an easy and fun experience. Your provider of applied behavior analysis can assist with any of the steps listed above and can help set your children up for success in the new year.


Michele Stone in the clinical director for Autism Spectrum Therapies in San Diego.

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