School Age 5/6 Years Old Until Preteens
Starting back to school is fun! (said no autism parent ever!)
Turn on any TV or radio station starting around July (depending on where you live) and you will see celebrities sporting their goods, breakfast companies soliciting mind fuel eats and more discount stores than you knew existed advertising colorful folders.
You need a plan. Your child needs a plan!
Here are some autism parenting tips for back to school time.
If your child has not qualified for Special Education services, immediately contact the school regarding a 504 plan and ensure accommodations are in place before school starts.
Section 504 is a broad federal civil rights law that protects all individuals with a handicap.
If your child has not been diagnosed with a specific type of disability covered by IDEA, then a 504 plan is your next best option.
All students who quality under 504 must have a 504 plan that outlines the services to be provided, just as an IEP lists all services to be provided.
All students with 504 plans and IEP’s are covered by civil rights legislation and can not be discriminated against. This includes autism!
Assuming your child has qualified and an IEP (Individualized Education Program) is in place, be sure to make contact with the school prior to the school year.
Most school staff arrive at least one week prior to children beginning classes. You should too!
If calls to the school go unreturned do not hesitate to make a personal appearance.
Remember, even though your child’s IEP was most likely developed prior to the end of the previous school year or prior to entry of primary school, one should never assume that the same staff who completed the original plan is actually still ON STAFF.
Confirm your child’s plan is in place and confirm with the school you are an active and engaged parent. You are now one team! If school has already started, it’s not too late!
Get involved now!
- Ensure your child’s IEP has appropriate accommodation for field trips.
- Ensure your child’s IEP has appropriate accommodations for substitute teachers.
Engage the school with power about your child.
This is really important!
If your child eats a big breakfast, however is not a lunch eater, it is important that the school knows that.
The school must provide lunch to all students, but if they are aware your child rarely eats lunch a meltdown could be avoided from a well intended and overly encouraging lunch staff.
If the first “fire drill” of the year might throw your child into sleepless nights and the inability to function for the remainder of the day, develop a plan!
Make the school aware. Talk to your child. Obviously your child must still participate as it is mandatory, but would a 5 minutes “heads up” avoid a major crash?
Talk to your child and the school about bullying! Establish a “safe person”.
It is ideal if your child is able to help identify this person.
Arrangements and agreements should be made when this individual is chosen that your child can disclose anything to this person without fear of consequence or judgment.
This can be tricky as your child ages, and if your child would disclose a serious or “reportable” incident.
If this situation arises, the “safe person” should always engage another staff to assist with the situation to avoid loss of trust.
It is crucial that this safe person be educated in your child’s diagnosis.
The goal first and foremost is to provide reassurance and encouragement to your child. If this person would become overly anxious themselves, this will simply breed anxieties in your own child.
Check-ins are a great way to build assurances as well.
Just like Granny check- ins on us bring comfort, your child will take comfort from their safe person at school routinely checking in.
MAPS! DIRECTIONS! CUE CARDS! ( Oh my!)
Some schools are big, really big!
If you know that your child will have a difficult time navigating the school, and where he/she should be and when, then implement a plan BEFORE school starts to ensure success.
Incorporate this into the IEP if necessary.
Mom/Dad, let it go!
Let me say that again, let it go!!!
Continually teach your children hygiene and grooming skills, however be sensitive to your child’s needs beyond this.
We all want our kiddos to look cute, to wear what is hip (did I just date myself with that word?), to blend in. Accept it now, sensory issues may not allow that. LET IT GO!
I can solemnly swear my kiddo has never EVER worn a pair of jeans to school…EVER. There is no shortage of jeans in our shopping centers, nor is there a dress code prohibiting jeans at school.
Jeans and my kiddo however don’t mix. The pure anxiety on his face when I mention the word “jeans” is enough to send me into a tail spin.
To insist my child wear jeans to school is setting him and the school up for disaster. The same goes for certain pencils or gym clothes, etc. Let it go!!
Spend the extra money if needed, resign yourself to looks from other parents that your child will only wear orange socks every day, it isn’t worth it.
Be aware of signs of co-occurring conditions in your child.
Ensure the school is also vigilant about reporting any signs that they see; ADHD, depression, anxiety, executive functioning difficulties, sleep disturbance, etc.
Immediately seek the guidance of a professional if any of these conditions are noticed.
Evaluate, Evaluate, Evaluate!
As a parent you should continually be reviewing whether your child’s needs are changing. Does therapy need to be increased/decreased? Does therapy need to be implemented INSIDE the school system. Would social skills group be helpful? Supplemental speech therapy?
By the end of February of each school year the idea of ESY (extended school year) should be discussed for your child.
Extended school year gives your child learning opportunities throughout the summer to continue to learn, catch up, stay caught up.
ESY is specifically designed for students with disabilities whose IEP committee determines that a student requires continued programming.
This is not a mandatory program for your child, but it can be very helpful. Community Mental Health Centers also often offer day programs to specifically target a need of your child.
Use these resources as they are available.
Back to school can be a stressful time for both you AND your kiddo. These back to school tips won’t necessarily eliminate the stress, but they will certainly make some things a little easier and more importantly, they will set both you and your kiddo up for success!