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Back To School Tips For ASD Kids

Back To School Tips For ASD Kids

Heading back to school after the long summer break can be a really stressful transition for some autistic kids (and parents too!). Here are some ideas to make it easier for everybody.



Shop early if you can

Having all new stuff isn’t always exciting, for some kids the change can be unsettling. Shop early for the things your kids need to give them time to familiarize themselves and learn how to use them. And don’t throw away their favourites from last year - even if that coloured pencil is worn down to the nub, the sight of a familiar friend inside a pencil case can be comforting when everything else around you is brand new.

Prepare new clothes

If your kids are hypersensitive, cut off all the labels and stretch out any tight neck or wristbands. Wash new clothes a few times to soften them up a bit and get rid of the strange smells (or add comforting familiar ones).

Wear in new shoes

New shoes can really hurt feet, plus they feel weird when you’re used to going barefoot or wearing sandals all summer. Socks can also be an issue for many kids, and can feel distracting or even unbearable, so wear them in slowly and make sure they're not too tight.

Air stuff out

A lot of back to school things have really strong odors for sensitive noses - book coverings, sticky labels, new books and clothes, the permanent markers used to write names on stuff... so leave them in an open space or outside for a day or two to reduce the smell.



Get into a routine

Knowing what will happen (and when and in which order) is the antidote to anxiety about change. Decide what your schoolday routine will look like, and start working your way towards that in the weeks before school starts. Start waking and going to bed a bit earlier each day, to avoid the jet lag effect that comes with a sudden shift to school hours in the first week back after summer.

Prepare for “How I spent my summer”

For me, one of the hands-down absolute worst kill-me-now aspects of the first day back at school was having to sum up what I did over the summer break, or answer those “My favourite things” style getting-to-know-you lists. These can be really tricky if:

  • You can’t remember what you did
  • You didn’t do anything exciting
  • You didn’t do the same kinds of things the other kids did
  • You don’t have a favourite of anything
  • You feel weird sharing intimate details about yourself with people you just met

It can really help kids feel more comfortable if they already have some answers to these questions before the first day of school.

Practice getting ready for school

Run through the whole morning routine - waking up, eating breakfast, getting dressed, brushing teeth. This will help you find and prepare for the trouble spots, as well as help the kids to get familiar with the plan.

Practice getting to school

This is especially important if the kids will be walking, catching a bus or riding their bike. Even driving the route in your car will help add that one extra bit of familiarity to the first day.

Practice being at school

There are a lot of activities that are unique to the school day - sitting still at a desk, lining up outside the classroom, raising your hand to ask a question. Turn some into a game so you can role play and develop these skills to give your kids a head start before the first day back.

Read social stories

Even if your kids are going back to the same class and teacher this year, running through the school day in the form of a story will help remind them what to expect and what is expected from them. You could include things like their teacher's name, which kids will be in their class and where their classroom will be.

Mark it on the calendar

Summer feels like it will last forever when you’re a kid, and “next Monday” doesn’t have much meaning when you don’t really care what day it is today. So make a visual reminder that school is coming - use a calendar or countdown where you can mark off the days and count how many there are left to go.

Practice writing or typing

Kids tend to do a lot less fine motor stuff over summer, spending their days running around or swimming or even playing Minecraft. It can be tricky to get back into the swing of using a pencil, so it’s a good idea to get them writing or drawing a bit in the weeks before school starts. For those with dysgraphia, encourage them to spend some time typing so they can express themselves more effectively when they’re back in the classroom.

Brush up on independence skills

It’s common for things like brushing teeth and tying shoes to fall by the wayside a little over the summer, or for the transition from school to vacation to trigger regression in some areas. Check where the kids are at with their independence skills and focus on putting in some extra practice before school starts.

Figure out your own routine

All the preparation in the world won’t amount to much if you’re running around like a chicken with its head cut off (Aside: I don’t know who came up with that saying but OMG the visuals.) Take some time before school starts to figure out how you’re going to fit in all the stuff that you’ll need to do - making lunches, carpool, after school sports. If you know what you’re doing and when, it’ll be much easier to stay calm.

Teach kids how to get help

This is possibly the most important tip of them all. Knowing how, when and where to get help can be a really difficult skill to master, and it’s something that we don’t often think to explicitly teach. Having the confidence that help is available to you if things go wrong will make a huge difference to how scary that first day back at school can feel (there are more tips in the post linked in the Resources section at the end).



Talk about food

The things that your kids eat at home during the summer might not adapt well to a lunchbox, so get them to help you choose stuff that they might enjoy eating when they’re at school. What do they like most about school lunches? What do they hate? What's their current favourite food? (Note: This will probably change three more times before the end of summer).

Practice eating at school

Meal times in the playground can be really different to home - kids need to be able to unwrap sandwiches themselves and open drink bottles, often while sitting on the ground. There might also be  rules about lunch - ours had a ridiculous policy that the kids had to eat their sandwich first before anything else in the lunchbox, which is really hard to do when your kids don’t HAVE  a sandwich... but that’s a rant for another day.

Eat meals at school time

Over the long lazy summer days it’s easy for snacks and meal times to blend together, and the kids can end up grazing all day. This might make it hard on their tummies when they’re back at school and forced to wait a whole TWO HOURS before they get food, oh the humanity! So in the last few weeks of summer try to edge back into regular meal times that are around the same times that they’ll be eating at school.



Visit the school and meet the teacher

A pre-start tour will really help kids to visualize what school looks like and where their classroom will be. If the school doesn’t allow you to visit before the first day, look at their website together or check to see if there are any videos online. Even checking out Google street view will help get a picture of what "school" means.

It's not always possible to meet the teacher before the first day, especially if staffing decisions are made at the last minute (this happens at a lot of schools), so if you can’t do that see if you can find a photo online or at the school.

Make a profile or letter for the teacher

It's a really good idea to write up a one-page summary to introduce your child and fill the teacher in on anything they need to know right away. Along with the usual stuff like strengths and challenges, include the signs that they’re overloaded and how to offer relief, and the things that might trigger a meltdown or cause sensory distress.

Make a map of the school

Having a visual guide that shows where the classes are, where to eat, where to get a drink and (most importantly) where to get help can make the new school seem just a bit more familiar on the first day, and can really help kids to feel more confident about moving around between classes.

Practice using a locker

These can be really daunting for kids, especially knowing how to work the lock. So if this is the first time that they’ll be using one, ask if you can have access in the week before school to get some practice opening the locker and putting their bag away. At least show them how the lock works, and spend some time practicing with it at home before they take it to school.

Plan escape routes

Being overwhelmed at school can be a really frightening experience, and it’s ten times worse when you’re not familiar with the routine, the surroundings or the people. Plan ahead for the times when your kids might need to get themselves out of a difficult situation - this might be making cards that say “I need a break”, teaching them what to say when they don’t know the answer, showing them where they can go for help... the escape routes will be different for everybody.

Talk about classroom rules

Some of the things that are expected in the classroom can be very different to the way things happen at home - you can’t go to the bathroom whenever you want and you have to wait to ask a question, for example. Talk about these rules and refresh their memories so they don’t inadvertently get in trouble on their first day.



Make a homework area

Nobody likes doing homework, but having a study area that’s welcoming will make it much easier to get the job done. Setting up a visually distinct homework space before school goes back will help ease the transition (make sure that it’s distraction-free with comfy seating and soft lighting).

Make a visual schedule 

Turn the morning routine into a sequence of steps that can be followed and checked off as completed. Make a separate one for each person, so they know what they’ve still got left to do (and you can keep tabs of where everyone is up to).



Build up their coping reserves

Dealing with the emotional, cognitive and sensory demands of the classroom can be exhausting for many kids, especially in those first days back. So keep the last week before school low-key and mellow - don’t rush around trying to fit in all the things that you were planning to do all summer, and make sure they get plenty of rest and sensory downtime.

(Try to) Relax!

Once you’ve done everything you can to ensure a smooth transition back to school for your kids, there’s nothing more to be done - so take a deep breath and have faith that it’s all going to work out okay. There are going to be bumps in the road - a lot of them, probably - but that’s a problem for another day... so enjoy these last days of summer that you get to share together.

Have a great year everyone!



Want these tips as a downloadable checklist?

How about ideas for writing an introductory letter to the new teacher?
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The Autism Preparation Kit For Teachers
18 Tips To Make Transitions Easier
Learning How To Ask For Help 

An Autistic’s Tips For Surviving The Start Of School by The Third Glance
Info Sheet For New Teacher by Inner Aspie
7 Things You Might Not Know To Ask For When Transitioning Your Autistic Child To Middle School by Flappiness Is


This article was first published on 31 July 2013

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