Back to School Advice

Being the parent of children on the autism spectrum is not easy no matter the time of year.

The long school holidays can be a challenging period as our children get out-of-routine. Children on the autism spectrum thrive in routine and structure. However, during summer holidays, they are often out of the structure they're used to. This can result in anxiety and behavioral issues and without the familiarity of their usual routine, they can feel lost and unsure of what to do.

Another issue many face during the summer holidays is social isolation. Many children on the spectrum struggle with socialisation and making friends. When school is in session, they have built-in opportunities to mix with classmates and teachers. However, during the summer break, they may be cut off from those opportunities, which can result in social isolation and loneliness.

As our children return to school they may be dealing with this anxiety and isolation making adjustment back into the routine of school a difficult transition.

I’d like to share with you now some ways in which you can help your child overcome this, ease back into school and enjoy their time there.

You must be their voice

You are the expert of your child’s moods, behaviours and feelings. You must become their voice and an advocate for them to articulate their unique needs to teachers and other school staff.

Communicate with the school

Create a collaborative relationship with your child's teachers and other school staff. Keep them informed about your child's strengths, challenges, and any strategies that have been successful in the past. Establish open lines of communication with your child's teacher to discuss your child's needs, strengths, and challenges related to autism. Share any strategies or accommodations that have worked in the past or during the holidays.

Individualized Education Program (IEP)  

Work with the school to develop an Individualized Education Program (IEP) that focuses on your child's specific needs and goals. This plan will ensure that your child receives appropriate accommodations and support in the classroom. This could include additional visual supports, preferential seating, access to sensory tools, or individualised instruction.  

Prepare in advance

Familiarise your child with the school environment and routine several days before school starts. Visit the school, walk through the building, locate classrooms, and talk about what to expect. This can help reduce anxiety and increase familiarity.

Social skills support

Many children with autism struggle with social interactions. Work with the school to provide social skills training or group activities where your child can learn and practice social skills with peers. Consider organising playdates or joining social groups in the community that are inclusive of diverse abilities.

 Develop a visual schedule

Create a visual schedule that maps out the school day. This can help your child understand the order of activities and reduce uncertainty. Use pictures, icons, or visual cues to represent each activity and navigate the school environment. These visual supports provide predictability and can alleviate anxiety. Use whatever works for your child.  

Social stories

Create social stories that depict different school situations or scenarios. These personalised stories can help your child understand what to expect in various situations and teach appropriate social responses.

Consistency and structure

Establish a consistent routine both at home and at school. Predictability can greatly benefit children with autism and help them feel more comfortable and secure in their environment.

Continuously evaluate and adjust

Regularly reassess your child's needs, progress, and goals. Collaborate with the school to make adjustments to the IEP or strategies being used to ensure continued growth and enjoyment of school.

Sensory considerations

Understand your child's sensory needs and communicate them to the school. Discuss with the teacher how to provide sensory breaks or accommodations if needed. Advocate for a sensory-friendly learning environment wherever possible.

Foster peer understanding

Educate classmates about autism to encourage understanding and inclusion. Talk to the teacher about arranging presentations or activities that promote acceptance and empathy among classmates.

Build a support network

Connect with other parents who have children with autism to share experiences, tips, and support. Join local autism support groups or online communities to build a support network for yourself and your child. See how you can develop a support network here

Focus on self-care

Taking care of yourself is important to ensure you can better support your child. Find time to relax, engage in self-care activities, seek support, and prioritize your well-being. Recognize and celebrate your child's accomplishments, no matter how small. Encouragement and positive reinforcement can promote motivation and self-esteem.

Remember, every child on the autism spectrum is unique, so it's crucial to tailor these suggestions to suit your child's individual needs. Additionally, collaborating closely with your child's teachers and school staff will help create a supportive and inclusive learning environment for your child.

I wish you and your children the best of luck in the new school year.

Autism Dad Ireland