How to get your child with autism ready for a new school year
Starting a new school year can be full of anxiety for any student (and parent) but for individuals with special needs the anxiety can be much more severe. The typical Meet the Teacher night most likely will not calm the fears of a student with autism and leave no more than a few minutes for you, as the parent, to get your child comfortable with a new classroom and a new routine. Here are a few strategies you can use to prepare your child or teen for a new school year:
Photo book or slide showWhether your child is going to be in a general or special education classroom during his or her school day one of the best tools you can take with you when you visit school is your camera. Take pictures of everything that may be part of your child's day (let the teacher know what you are doing ahead of time, of course). Photograph the front of the school, the hallway they will walk down, the door to their new classroom(s), their desk, the playground, the cafeteria, anything they may encounter. If your child enjoys looking at photos on the computer, make a slideshow of these pictures that creates a "story" of how his or her school day will go. If not, print out the photos and make a book of your own. Review the pictures, talking to your child about the days ahead and the places and faces they will see. If your student is older, they may even want to create their own slideshow. Make the pictures available and let them get creative with how they use them. The key is, the more they look at the photos, the more comfortable they will be with the environment. For high school students, even a yearbook can be helpful. If they are just beginning high school, ask the school if there is a past yearbook available that you can purchase or borrow for your student.
About Me pageCreating an About Me page or book to be distributed to anyone who comes in contact with your child will help staff identify your student and better support them. One of the best things you can do to prepare your student for school is to prepare the school for him or her. If your child is in preschool, kindergarden or an environment where there is a small number of students you could create an About Me book, detailing everything you would like others to know about him or her. If your child is in a larger school environment an About Me page may be best. Using a picture of your child, summarize the most important things you would like everyone to know and frame it in a 5 x 7 frame for staff to keep at their desks as a quick reminder. This is especially helpful for people who may not encounter your son or daughter every day but can still offer support when they do see them.
Visual scheduleThis can vary greatly depending on the age and learning level of your child. Picture schedules can incorporate actual photos or pictures of the parts of the day, as your student gets older you can add words to the photos. Color coded schedules can be used for older students in a middle or high school environment. Assigning a color to each subject can help students coordinate their schedule and homework.
Possible accommodationsDepending on what age your child is you may need to have different accommodations written into his or her IEP. Depending on the support level you receive from the school, they may or may not have suggested some of the following:
-Quiet area away from the class for testing -Adjusted passing times to avoid loud hallways -Peer supports (will discuss in detail next week) -Support for sensory needs in the classroom -Separate area for lunch if cafeteria is too loudThese are just a few of the basic accommodations, the list could go on and on and truly depends on your child. Just remember, an IEP is an Individualized Education Plan and must meet the unique needs of your child so don't be afraid to ask for what you feel will make your child successful.