Preparing Your Autistic Child to Go Back to School

group of children writing when back to school
Not long until they go back to school

With children going back to school soon, here are our top tips for helping your autistic child prepare:

Start the countdown

If your child struggles to understand the concept of time or needs to be well prepared for changes, now is the time to start the countdown.

Countdowns can be very helpful for many autistic children If you child is aware that ‘back to school’ is on the horizon, you may already be being asked “how long” or “when?” frequently. Countdowns can help to decrease this questioning, and make your child feel more in control.

For those children who do not foresee that a return to (or new start at) school is imminent, a countdown is important to prepare them – and help avoid the surprise of the first day of term.

Countdowns can take many forms, you will know how best to do this with your child. Some ideas include:

  • mark back to school day on the calendar and cross off the previous day each morning
  • make a ‘number of sleeps’ chart, and cross off each morning
  • use a slate and chalk, or laminate sheet and dry marker to countdown the number of sleeps left each morning
  • make some cut outs to represent holiday days left, and remove one each morning

Do a Uniform Sensory Test

Some autistic children have sensory issues in relation to clothes and shoes. It’s worthwhile trying your child’s uniform on well ahead of the first day back at school to check for issues. This will give you time to resolve them, and help your child prepare for wearing uniform.

Labels in clothing can feel really annoying, irritating or even painful to autistic children. This is often made worse by ‘iron on’ name tags. You can address this by removing the labels from clothes. Make sure you remove them completely or as close to the seam as possible. Cut stubs can be sharper and more annoying than the whole label.

You can find some tips on how to remove the label completely here:

New clothes are often thickened with fillers, stiffened with starch or just generally stiffer than older clothes because of their newness.

These may feel scratchy or uncomfortable to your child, and a wash or two can help reduce this feeling. Fabric softener will also help clothes feel more comfortable, remember to check the label before using on night clothes.

Your child may also have sensory issues in relation to smells, in which case fragrance free fabric conditioners can be useful:

Do a Dummy Run

If starting a new school, new way of getting to school or if your child can’t remember last term it is worth undertaking a few ‘dummy runs’ of the journey to school.

If your child will be going to school in a taxi, and there are a few routes ‘dummy run’ them all. This will help them to understand that there are a few ways to get to the same place. This will help prevent distress if the taxi takes a different route because of road works etc.

After completing ‘dummy runs’, you can use the time taken to work out the time you will need to leave home in the mornings. This will be useful for my next tip!

Plan for School Mornings With Military Precision

It is very easy for mornings to descend into chaos when everyone is getting ready for school and work. Take some time now to think about, and plan the tasks make up the school morning. Allow time for each task and then work out the times that your child will need to get up, get dressed, have breakfast and be ready by. If appropriate for your child’s level of understanding, transfer these into a visual schedule. Your child will then easily be able to see what is expected of them and by when. This will help decrease the need for use of language, constant reminders or nagging. It will also help you to see when things are running over before its too late!

If mornings are a difficult time of day for your child, try building in a reward to the visual timetable. Things like having 10 minutes of TV before school if ready on time can help with motivation.

Remember to name, comment or praise positive morning behaviours – it can be easy to forget when you are rushing around!

Start to make the Changes Now

Returning to school can often mean lots of changes to the holiday home routine. Things like earlier bed times, earlier waking times, different bath and bed routines and packing bags the night before mean that there are lots of difference on top of going back to school.

By starting to make these changes gradually, you will help your child to cope more easily. This approach will also prevent negative associations with school, such as “I hate school because I have to go to bed early”.

If bedtime has altered to later nights and later waking, begin to alter back to school times incrementally. Depending on the time difference, you can make bedtime 5 – 20 minutes earlier and wake your child earlier in the morning so that they are readjusted by the time they return to school.

If bedtimes / sleeping is a problem, look out for our tips coming soon.

Be Clear About the Purpose of Going Back to School

If your child prefers to stay at home over school (as most do!), it might help to outline the purpose of school. Of course any child, especially if autistic, may be experiencing a range of problems in school which are not going to be helped by this tip. However, some autistic children struggle to see the reason for having to go to school. They may then view it as a punishment, or rejection, unless it is explained. Therefore, if your child is able to understand it is worth explaining. Use simple sentences, and visuals to explain what the law says, how important it is to learn and the positive aspects of being part of the school.

Plan Your Contact With School

Hopefully, your child’s transition to their new class has been planned and prepared. However, if this has not been the case for you you will likely be very keen to talk to the new teacher. If there are issues you want your child’s teacher to be aware of, and haven’t had the chance to discuss them take some time to write them down. The teacher maybe very busy on the first few days, and won’t have time to meet with you. By writing things down, you can pass them on in writing so that the teacher is aware of needs straight away, and then you can discuss at the first opportunity.

I would advise you write any needs and preferences down, rather than rely on a handover from the previous class or school – just to be sure.

Plan Your First Day

As always, you need to also think about yourself on first day back to school. If you are anxious, it might be helpful to plan something that will keep you busy and decrease your worrying. If you have been exhausted from the school holiday, you may want to plan to put your feet up! Don’t rush to do all the errands and tasks you haven’t been able to complete over the holidays – take some ‘me time’ if you can…

If you have any suggestions for future posts or tips, comment below or contact us

If you need help motivating your autistic child or managing behaviour, we can help – get in touch today!