The return to school or college after the summer holidays can be daunting for autistic children and young people and those with other additional needs, including ADHD – our Family Support & Training Lead Julia Cox has some tips to help.
Children and teenagers may be excited to see their friends again next week and to start learning new topics and subjects, but they may also feel apprehensive about moving from their home routine to the demands of a school week – especially if they are starting at a new school or moving to a new educational setting, such as a further education college.
Gently remind your child of the positives of school and continue to focus on these over the next few days
You could look back over memories of good times at school – photos, certificates, artwork etc – and reawaken their interest in favourite subjects by watching TV documentaries together.
To minimise the anxiety they are feeling, try to create a calm and ordered feel at home for them. Here are some ideas you could try:
- Reduce the demands you make on your child/young person.
- Pick your battles. Choose which things are worth arguing about and which can wait.
- Stick to a consistent daily routine with lots of predictability.
- Don’t fill every minute of their day between now and the start of school, but instead give lots of time for relaxation.
- Think about their sensory needs – limit noise and activity at home. Encourage a balance of regular exercise and relaxed days.
- Have a timetable, which emphasises all the positive things happening and distracts from possible worries about school.
The routine of getting to school is often one of the biggest problem areas for neurodivergent children, so get back into a routine now, with the help of these tips:
- Get up/go to bed at roughly the same times each day.
- Visit the school site. Talk about and/or practise the journey to school and back home. Walk round the perimeter. Go inside if possible.
- Wash the school uniform to soften the material and make it smell right. Leave it hanging up where it can be seen or encourage your child to practise wearing it around the house, so it becomes comfortable and familiar.
- Use a school lunch box at home.
- Use a school bag and pencil case, etc, at home.
Help your child to practise the skills they will need to cope at school including social skills and independence.
Build time out of their bedroom into the daily routine, even if only for brief periods and encourage them to join in with social events with familiar people.
Practise getting undressed/dressed for PE/games and loading their school bag, so that they can fit everything in neatly and find it again when they need specific items.
And to help your child mentally prepare for the upcoming term, try to build their confidence and self-esteem as much as possible.
You can do this by helping them to feel good about themselves, perhaps by asking for their help and advice with things you need to do, showing that you value their opinion.
You might also want to allow them to have lots of time on their special interests, sometimes joining them in the activity to show that they can share their knowledge and expertise.
Set aside specific times to talk about school. Try not to talk about it outside of these times but note down worries and questions, to be sure they are all addressed before they go back. When answering their questions, try to keep to the facts.
Find out from their school about any changes they may find, for example if building work has taken place during the summer, or classrooms have been altered and explain them to your child as simply as possible, using visual information and social stories if possible.
Emphasise the things that are staying the same. It will really help your child if you tell them what will be happening at school and what they will be allowed to do, rather than focusing on the things that they won’t be able to do.
Further advice is always available from Autism Berkshire’s family support team. You can contact them in the following ways – please make sure to include your email address and a phone number in your message: