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How is it best to transition from summer break back to school with an autistic child?

July 11, 2016


My eight-year old with ASD will be returning to school soon. How can I prepare him for the transition to a more structured schedule after a relaxed summer?


It is important to prepare your child in advance. The better prepared he or she is, the easier the transition. Here are some helpful tips for comfortably easing your child back into the school routine.

When getting ready to say goodbye to summer, there are several strategies you may try to reduce the impact of a tough transition. In the weeks leading up to school, ask your child’s special education teacher or team member to help you organize one or two trips to the school while the classrooms and hallways are still empty. Most teachers are working in their classrooms before school starts, so your child’s brief visit to ease the transition shouldn’t be a problem.

This time could also be a good opportunity for your child to meet the general education teacher and to see the classroom. This interaction may be easier to facilitate outside of the traditional “meet the teacher” hustle and bustle.

If you work with a behavior analyst who knows your child well, the analyst may help you create a list of effective strategies for communicating with and teaching your child. These should be strategies that can be easily implemented by others who don’t have as much training as your child’s special education team. This list can be given to any special teachers, your child’s bus driver and regular classroom teachers.

Some parents make a point of talking with their child’s class about learning differences or Autism. Or, some families choose to let the child’s teacher talk to the class. There are several ways to approach this. The school counselor can be a great resource for navigating the process with you. Also, most school districts have a special education parent group. This can provide invaluable support for all things related to school.

The following is based on several articles from Autism Speaks that you might also find helpful:

The preparation for back-to-school can be a nightmare for parents of children with special needs.

Here are some ways to help prepare your child for the transition.

  • Re-establish sleep schedules early. Summers are for sleeping in and staying up late, but your child may need extra time to transition back to a school day sleep schedule. If you gradually reintroduce the sleep schedule before summer ends, it won’t be so difficult to pick the routine back up once school starts.
  • Use visual schedules for morning and bedtimes. This will help your child gain independence in getting ready and provide clear expectations of what needs to be done.
  • Create a social story. Social stories are a fun and creative way to prepare your child to go back to school. Social stories help establish routines and provide clear expectations of what the school day will look like.
  • Prepare a picture book of the new teacher, new school, new playground, and more.
  • Reintroduce homework. Summer is a time for fun and relaxation, but children with special needs may lose skills they’re not using for long periods of time and may have a difficult time transitioning back to less preferred tasks. Slowly incorporate homework-type activities into their daily routine at the time they will be expected to do homework during the school year. Begin with tasks you know they will have success with so that they will be more motivated to complete them.
  • Familiarize your child with his surroundings. Whether he’s starting in a new school or a new classroom, or even if it’s the same classroom, taking a trip (or several trips) to the environment where he’ll be spending most of his day will help ease the change in routine and establish new routines in the school setting. Meet the teacher, figure out where he’ll be sitting, determine the best bathroom route, etc.
  • Dress for success. If your child has to wear a uniform or just different clothing than his summertime attire, get him used to wearing those outfits early, even if it’s just for a few minutes at a time. Buy tag-less and seamless items if he has sensory issues.
  • Have fun! While preparation for school is necessary, enjoying summertime is just as necessary. Make sure to motivate your child with fun activities while helping him readjust to the impending school year.
Father playing with his little girl at home Father playing with his little girl at home