Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Preparing your kids for back to school

For most of us, school is just around the corner.  If your children are anything like mine, they may need some extra preparation in order to make the transition back to school easier.

My son, Danny, has autism.  He will be starting fourth grade this year, and the beginning of a new school year has traditionally been quite difficult for him.  Even long after separation anxiety was a problem for him, he would cry on the first day of school.  Each year, it would surprise me; Danny is not actually a big crier.

Finally, last year, I decided I needed to make some changes.  This was not a phase he was growing out of.  Instead, it was something I needed to help him with.

Here is what we did:

Tour the School
I callec the school and set up an appointment to tour the school on a day when there are few people at school.

We did this last year for my son, Danny, who has autism.  He was preparing to start at a new school building and I wanted him to feel comfortable before school started.  On a day in May, the vice principal took us around the school after all the students had gone home.  He pointed out where Danny would have technology class and where the bathrooms were.  He gave us time to explore and familiarize ourselves with the school.

After the tour, Danny and I talked about the school throughout the summer.  I reminded him he would be in a new school, and we talked about the aspects of the school that especially excited him--the computer lab and the music room.

Meet the teacher(s)
Later, in the summer, we arranged for another tour--this time where Danny could meet his teachers and therapists.  Ms. C and Ms. F met us at the door and they walked Danny through what a first day would look like.  They explained that he would meet in the gym with the rest of the students and that Ms. F would come and collect the class.

The teachers showed Danny both classrooms, and they talked to him about how his summer had been going.  They listened to him describe his birthday presents and asked if he had any questions.

Visit the school when it is in session
Another idea that might help some kids would be to actually eat lunch at the new building once before summer. For example, I think if I could get Danny from South Side one day in April or May and take him to lunch at Central, he would get a big kick out of that. And if there were teachers there to talk with him and he could just look around the school a bit while class was in session, it could help him.

Play on the playground
Or if they could get the kids together one day in the summer and let the kids play on the playground equipment for an hour or so, that could help as well.

Basically, anything you can think of that would help familiarize the kids to the school would help. And if there are FUN ways to introduce them, all the better. In my experience, many kids on the spectrum (and I'm sure this applies to many special needs kids in general) seem to have a relatively high level of anxiety.

I think in my son's case, it has to do with sensory overload and feeling out of control. New situations are incredibly stressful for him, because he's not sure what is expected of him. If he has a chance to check out the school in a fun, laid-back way, it would help his transition so much more. And he would associate this new school with fun memories which is really helpful!

Even though he is 8 years old, he struggles with the first few days of school, every single year. I'm sure it has to do with the transition and being so completely out of his comfort zone. I KNOW meeting his teacher well ahead of school time would help him tremendously! I know the schools don't assign kids their teachers right away, and I think this is a shame in the cases of kids like Danny. I cannot stress enough how much it would help him to know in the Spring (or at least by July) who his teacher is going to be. And if he could meet her early and spend a bit of time with her doing something fun that makes him comfortable (like playing LEGOs together) would be the hugest help!
I know teachers work so hard and I don't want to add to their work load, but actually, in the long run, these things could help the teacher. Danny would be far less stressed, which would mean he would do better in school.

Danny spends the whole summer with me and his siblings, people he feels totally comfortable with. When school comes around, especially since he's moved from ELC, Danny has had major difficulty. He cries the first day or so, and even after that, Danny
tells me how much he misses me at school. I think a lot of that is a comfort thing for him, since he is doing it A LOT more this year than ever before and this year has been incredibly stressful for him, for many reasons. If he feels acquainted with his teacher and therapists (Speech, special ed teacher, etc) before hand, I think his transition would go so much more smoothly.
Okay, I'll stop here. I'll try to come up with other ideas, but these are the biggest ones. Thanks so much for asking for my ideas! I really appreciate it. I sure hope we can do some of these things to help Danny when he moves on to Central!
Let me know if any of this doesn't make sense.

Change the kids' sleep schedule

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