Wednesday, March 21, 2012

School Days

Change is a huge obstacle in any child’s life, but for a child with autism it can turn their world upside down. This is why a new school year can be like a capsized boat. The summer has already changed their routine, but on top of that they will be getting a new teacher, new classroom, some new classmates, and a new daily routine as well. Hopefully I can give you a few tips to help make this transition a little less difficult.

This makes me think back to Konner’s first day in head start. I remember him going in the door excited about starting, but as he entered the classroom he began to roam around the room. The roaming continued off and on for a couple weeks until he got used to the routine and the people around him. It slowly tapered off until he knew where he was supposed to go and what he was supposed to do.

As I was researching this subject the one thing that was constant throughout the web pages and books was that you need to visit your classroom. This is very important. You have to try and contact the teacher or school ahead of time (now is a great time because many are working on setting up their rooms for the new year), and see if you can take a few minutes to let your child come in and look around. You may want to do this a couple times before schools starts if the teacher will let you. It will let the child get used to the environment ahead of time. It will also let the teacher and student do a little bonding. This will cut down on the anxiety when the room is full of loud students and other distractions.

We are fortunate that my wife is a teacher in the school that Konner is attending. In fact he is going into first grade this year, and she teaches that same grade. While he won’t be in her classroom, he will be close in case of an emergency. She has been to the school a few times this summer to work in her room, and when she can she takes Konner to help him get used to where he’s going. He has yet to go into the classroom, but he knows where it is, and who his teacher will be.

When you do meet with your teacher you may want to include a list of tips. Here is one that I found on

            Five Things Teachers Need to Know

1. My child needs structure and routine in order to function. Please try to keep his world as predictable as possible.

2. If there will be any sort of change in my child's classroom or routine, please notify me as far in advance as possible so that we can all work together in preparing her for it.

3. Teaching strategies intended for children with autism will help my child learn better and make him easier for you to deal with.

4. My child is an individual, not a diagnosis. Please be alert and receptive to the things that make her unique and special.

5. Please keep the lines of communication open between our home and the school. My child needs all the adults in her life working together.

Then there are school supplies. Besides the normal classroom material – pens, pencils, backpacks, etc. – autistic children will need special supplies. You should make sure that if your child uses a weighted vest or blanket, earplugs, kick-mats, or any other specialty items you have plenty and they are in good shape. Konner likes to chew on things, that’s one of his stims, so we decided to order some pencil toppers and chewlry (chewable jewelry designed for autistic children). There is a great site called that we just ordered from. You can get any of these supplies including the weighted vests and sensory toys. We received our order within four days.

If you have a communication notebook (which I talked about last week) now is a good time to make sure it is cleaned up and fully supplied. Make sure there are emergency numbers included. You will also be using this in an IEP, which you should have the first couple weeks of school to make sure everyone is on the same page.

The most important part is getting your child ready. That is why you should talk to them about what they should expect. Start this a few weeks out and get their minds headed in the right direction. Here is a list I found on I thought I would share.

·         Show your child pictures of his school and, if possible, his new teacher. As you show the pictures, talk positively to the child.

·         Take your child on a tour of her new school when there aren't a lot of other children around. Registration days for the general public aren't a good time to bring your child to school.

·         Adjust your child's bedtime schedule in increments to prepare him for new school hours. Try adjusting the times by 15 minutes until you get bedtime right.

·         Add school preparations to the night-before routine. For example teach your child to lay her school clothes out and get her backpack ready even before school starts.

·         Prewash all school clothing and remove irritating tags that could irritate the skin. Autistic children are very sensitive to touch. Use a fabric softener that has a smell he is familiar with.

I’m not saying that these things will cause all your issues and pain to go away. The first couple weeks, until they get used to the routine again, are probably going to be difficult. However, this may cut down on the anxiety a little and help you along a little on the path to “normalcy”. I hope the school year starts well for all of you.

Disclaimer: I am in no way claiming to be an expert. I’m just a father who is trying to learn as much about Autism as I can to help my child. I hope that you all can learn from me, and I from you. I ask anyone who has questions or comments about something I have written, or autism, please contact me at I will try to answer questions as I have time, and if I find it interesting enough I may touch on it in my column.

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