As we move towards the end of summer it is important that we create as smooth a transition into the new school year as possible for our children. For many children it is not just the change of schedule that causes concern, but it is getting them used to new teachers, new classrooms, new classmates, and as they get older, new academic requirements and even new school buildings.
This is not easy for the average student, never mind those students who have a disability. Parents and educators need to be aware of ways to help with the transition into a new classroom and what is expected of them as they move up each grade/year.
Here are some ideas that have helped us over the years with transitions from summer into the next school year. Remember all the suggestions can be altered to fit any child’s age, needs, or particular circumstances:
1. Write a social story. Social stories are individualized short stories that describe a social situation that a child (affected by autism) may encounter. Social stories are used to teach skills and social cues through precise and sequential information about everyday events that the child may encounter and find challenging. Social Stories can prevent anxiety and help a child navigate the start of the new school year and new social situations.
You could write a social story with the names of the new teacher (s), the school, the classroom, and other staff and how to greet each.
Write a social story about how starting a new school year will be exciting and they will meet many new friends.
Write about where the bathroom, cafeteria, gym etc. are and include the transition procedures between activities.
This works for older children as well as for those still in elementary. In fact, my younger son used to carry around his “social story bible” in middle school. It contained every social story that had been written for him, from how to find his locker, how to behave in class, to where the cafeteria was, where his quiet room was, and steps he had to take each time he entered a new class. He also decorated the front of the binder, which gave him ownership of the entire project. Every time he came into homeroom in the morning, the special education teacher (he was in a co-op class) would have him sit and read through all the social stories in his “bible.”
2. Make sure they visit the new teacher, classroom, tour the school to learn where everything is, learn where their lockers are (if there is a combination help them figure out how to open the locker). And if they are going to switch classrooms for subjects, make sure they visit all their classrooms and if possible say Hi to all their teachers.
If the school principal and vice principal are around, introduce your child and/or simply say hi to the people in the front office as well. I have found that simply having a rapport with the adults in the front office was very helpful for my children throughout the school year. A friendly face and smile from an adult always go a long way in making your child’s day better, easier, and allows them to feel welcome.
3. If they are also new to a classroom, create an opportunity for them to know at least one other student in the class ahead of time and set a play date up for them.
4. If they are in middle school or high school have a meeting with the guidance counselor and make certain all the teachers have copies of the child's IEP.
5. Have a meeting with the new teacher(s) to make certain they understand what is in the IEP and discuss any questions or concerns. In some instances your child may also have a behavior plan (both of mine did throughout their education). Make certain the teachers all have copies and that they understand what the plan is when certain circumstances arise.
6. Take your child shopping for school supplies and new clothes if appropriate. Allow them to have a say in their folders, binders, and clothes.
7. Set up a calendar of events so the child can mark off the last two weeks (or days for younger children) of the summer. Try to make the end of the summer fun, but also a little boring so they will be happy to get back to school. (Yes, that is a mommy-trick, and obviously not exactly fair, but all is not fair in love, war, and parenting.)
8. This may be challenging, but see if they can meet their new bus driver and aide too. If your child is in kindergarten, or this is the first time they are riding the bus, see if the school has a special bus ride day for new children and make sure there is proper support for that day.
9. Have a special meal the night before school starts to celebrate a new school year. We always have Chinese food the night before a new semester. In fact, it is such a tradition in our house, that my oldest who just started a summer course, insisted on having Chinese food the night before his class was to start.
You can find more articles I have written on the practical aspects of school.
For younger children: http://www.practicalautism.com/2015/07/pracrtical-information-for-pre-k.html
For older children http://www.practicalautism.com/2015/07/practical-information-for-adolescents.html
Elise, an award-winning blogger, writes about the practical aspects of raising autistic children at her blog Raising Asperger’s Kids, http://practicalautism.com. She writes under the pen-name Elise Ronan, to protect her sons’ privacy, and has permission from them to tell their story.
Everything Elise writes about raising autistic children can be applied to any disability, invisible or even physical. There is information about creating your child’s support village, and practical information grouped by age. These direct pages can be found on the sidebar on her blog page. She is open to answering questions about her writings and helping other parents where she can. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Elise also writes a book review blog at Journaling on Paper, http://journalingonpaper.com. She reviews different genres from memoirs, to spy thrillers, murder mysteries, space operas, historical fiction, and more. She also explores the use of language, and its effects.