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"Back To School" Preparations for Aspergers Kids

With a new school year around the corner, it’s time for new notebooks, new outfits, and new adventures to come. A fresh start! What could be more exciting? Unless you’re a youngster with Aspergers or High-Functioning Autism.

These children often find life chaotic, challenging, and anxiety provoking—even when they’re in familiar surroundings. To them, the excitement of a new year is anything but – it can feel like a long list of threats! Fortunately, moms and dads can be a big help. The key is to prepare the situation for the child, and the child for the situation. 

Here are 12 practical tips for parents:

1. If a choice of educators is available, take advantage of the opportunity. Meet with the educators and decide which one's credentials and personality will work best for your Aspergers youngster.

2. If your child is comfortable with it, let him prepare a presentation for his classmates to teach them about his disorder and let them ask any questions they may have. This will help the other kids to accept any of his noticeable differences.

3. Learn the new routine. Ask the teacher to go over the daily classroom routine so that you can review it with your youngster. Create social stories and review them often so that he/she knows what to expect when school starts. Let your Aspie visit the school and meet his teacher before school starts. Getting a tour of the school, the bathrooms, and the classroom will help him to feel more comfortable and will give his teacher an opportunity to get to know him and his needs before the room is filled with other students.

4. Make a transition book. On the day that you and your child will be taking a tour of the school, take a camera with you and take pictures of everything you can and use them to create a transition book. This is a book about your youngster's new teacher and class. Look at the book regularly to help your youngster become familiar with the new environment.

5. Meet with the school staff at the beginning of each school year. Talk to them about an individual education plan (IEP) for your youngster or a 504 plan. With an IEP, the school is required by law to accommodate your youngster to the specifications stated in the signed document. A 504 plan is less structured, but can offer guidance on educating and caring for your youngster and allow you to ensure he/she receives the best education possible. Continue to meet with the staff on a regular basis to make certain all of your youngster's needs are being met.

6. Make digital copies of your IEP and other paperwork. You're going to have to send multiple copies of these documents to various professionals throughout the year, and it's very handy to have them available via email. Stop by an office supply store and have them make you a digital copy as well as an extra hard copy to have on hand.

7. Remember that an Aspergers child will pick up on your stress, so make sure you have all your necessary supplies early. Have everything ready a full week before school starts (e.g., clothes, supplies, meeting the teacher, the bedtime routine, etc.). It usually makes for smoother adjustment from summer schedule to school schedule again.

8. Write up a brief, one-page document that covers your Aspergers son or daughter at a glance. Note any food allergies or medical needs the school should know about, the schedule for taking medications, things that are likely to set your youngster off, things that will calm him down, emergency contact information, any diet restrictions, any physical limitations, etc. Talk with the teacher about the information in the packet and make sure she feels comfortable with all of it. It will give you peace of mind to know that your youngster is in capable hands.

9. Schedule your well-child check up. Don't wait until the school nurse calls to say she doesn't have your youngster's updated records. Schedule your youngster's appointment as early as possible -- and when you schedule the appointment, let them know you need immunization and other records for school.

10. Oftentimes, moms and dads of Aspergers kids don't allow others to care for their youngster and don't take any time for themselves. This is pretty normal and understandable, but it could mean trouble when the time comes to let go. Start early by allowing a few people you know and trust to take care of your Aspergers youngster while you run errands or go to a movie. Let your youngster play at your friend or relative's house for an afternoon while you get coffee with a friend or your spouse. Take baby steps and practice sending your Aspie into the world.

11. Start snapping photos for social stories. You can have one for your morning routine at home, one about going to school, one for situations your youngster may encounter at school (e.g., eating lunch in the cafeteria), and one for doing homework later in the evening. Take pictures with your digital camera or cell phone, develop them directly into a book at a local drugstore, and then narrate them with your youngster again and again.

12. Teach your Aspergers child to speak up for himself. Learning to self-advocate is important. Your youngster faces a lifetime of challenges when it comes to standing up for himself in school, at doctors' appointments, and in the real world. Answer his questions with openness and honesty, and let him speak for himself with doctors and anyone who is curious about his disorder. He will feel more comfortable with himself and his uniqueness and will amaze you with how well he is able to take care of his own needs.

More resources for parents of children and teens with High-Functioning Autism and Asperger's:

==> How To Prevent Meltdowns and Tantrums In Children With High-Functioning Autism and Asperger's

==> Parenting System that Significantly Reduces Defiant Behavior in Teens with Aspergers and High-Functioning Autism

==> Launching Adult Children with Asperger's and High-Functioning Autism: Guide for Parents Who Want to Promote Self-Reliance

==> Teaching Social Skills and Emotion Management to Children and Teens with Asperger's and High-Functioning Autism

==> Parenting Children and Teens with High-Functioning Autism: Comprehensive Handbook

==> Unraveling The Mystery Behind Asperger's and High-Functioning Autism: Audio Book

==> Highly Effective Research-Based Parenting Strategies for Children with Asperger's and High-Functioning Autism


Anonymous said...

Mark, love this article. My son doesn't even want me to mention the word school at this time of year. But the sooner we parents are ready, the better. I especially liked the idea of the digital IEP! The transition strategies you mentioned are particularly important if a child is going from grade school to junior high, or from junior high to high school, or from high school to college.

Towards Harmony said...

This is a great article. Very useful differences in environment and practices between our countries. Thanks!

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