Going to school is a BIG challenge for children with Autism. This causes the children to feel enormous anxiety and stress, which in turn can lead to behaviour. This anxiety and behaviour can be managed by effective planning and transition strategies.
Many children with Autism have a script in their minds about everything that happens in their day. As such, explaining changes in advance help pre-warn them of any changes and which will help them manage their anxiety and stress better. Following are some strategies to help your children manage their anxiety associated with starting school. These include:
- Getting to school: Practice the routine (walk, bus, car) and discuss what to do with your child if something is out of routine ( e.g. if it rains, if you have to take a detour to school because of the road works). Be aware of the best timing when dropping off your child at the school. Some children likes to arrive at the school right on the bell, while others like to arrive after everyone has already been in the classroom). Whatever routine you and your child have agreed upon, try to be consistent and stick with it as much as possible. Do the same for after school pick up.
- Manage sensory and the new environment: Too many people, too many new sounds, too much movements, new people can all be too overwhelming for the children. Try to avoid these by working with the school to manage the environment and cater for your child’s individual sensory needs.
- Have a person/or persons who your child know and who he/she can go to for help.
- Use visuals to help your child navigate their way around the school (e.g. to the classroom, toilet, bags, sensory room etc.). Visual timetable for class routines are highly recommended (talk to your child’s teacher about creating one of these for your child). Photos can also be used to give information about places and people (e.g. drinking tap, class teachers, toilet).
- Use social stories to create scripts to give important information to the child such as classroom rules, school rules, making new friends, playground rules etc. You can create social scripts to explain these and your child can refer back to.
- Lunch routine: practice using lunch box, container, drink bottle etc ( some young children still have difficulties managing their lunch box and drink bottle, glad wrap, zipping and unzipping lunch bag).
- Calming strategies: Ensure that your child knows where in the new environment they can go to calm or access their sensory tools. If they have their own sensory tools that they need from home, speak with their teacher who to best support your child and accommodate this during class time.
Next week, I will share with you some strategies on talking to your children about school as a way to stay connect with older school children.