Ah, September. The lovely, relaxing days of summer come to an end, and we go back to the hustle and bustle of the school year. The pace of September can be stressful for kids and parents alike, and the demands of a suddenly busy schedule can feel very overwhelming for the entire family.
A successful entry into school can set the stage for a great school year. Here are some ABA-based tips that might make this September your family’s best yet.
Priming is a technique used to prepare children for what lies ahead. When you look over your schedule the night before and mentally run through all the things you need for your day is an informal example of priming. If you have a child with autism, a more formal approach to priming can make a big difference in your child’s anxiety levels and his ability to cope with the demands of a new environment.
Make a visual schedule of what your child can expect for the day. Include as much detail as possible, including things like the bus ride to school or who will pick your child up at lunch. If possible, use photographs of the actual facilities (lunchroom, playground, classroom, and so on) at your child’s school. If that’s not possible, there are many excellent (and free!) visual aids available online. After you have created this visual, run through it for your child as often as possible – preferably twice a day for at least the week leading up to that first day of school. By the time the day actually arrives, your child will be ready and know what to expect.
Do a Walk-Through
Priming is even more successful if supported by a real-life experience. If it is possible, arrange for your child to do a walk-through of the school before the start of the school year. Many schools are open two weeks before school starts to allow the teachers to prepare, and many may be willing to accommodate a short visit from your child. This is a good idea even if your child is attending the same school as she was the year before! Show her the door that she’ll go into and out of, where the nearest bathrooms are located, the classrooms she’ll be in, where she’ll eat her lunch, and so on. She can even help you take photos on your phone to put together the visual schedule you’re going to use for priming!
Meet the Teacher
If possible, meet with your child’s teacher before the start of the school year. Remember, while your child’s teacher may be an expert in education, YOU are the expert on your child. You know what she needs to be successful in the classroom, and your child’s teacher won’t know unless you communicate it. What strategies are you using at home that are successful? Do you use a token economy that you can share with the school? Are there preferred reinforcers that really motivate your child? These are the things your teacher should know – BEFORE day one if at all possible.
Plan, Plan, Plan
I’m a college professor, and I tell my students at the start of the year that if they fail to plan, they might as well plan to fail. It’s not possible to anticipate every challenge your child will face this year (or any year) but a little proactive planning can help make the year much more successful. Think about what your child needs to be successful during the school day, and make sure she has it in her backpack ready to go on that very first morning. Sensory toys? Water bottle? Break card? A photo of you? As much as possible anticipate what she might need, and make sure she has it at her disposal – before any difficult moments hit!
September can be tough. If you’ve been enjoying leisurely mornings where you’re not even all dressed before 10am, the shock of the back-to-school schedule can cause emotional whiplash! So be sure to build extra reinforcement into your child’s day to give him that motivation to get through those first days back at school – which can feel awfully long sometimes! A treat when he gets off the bus or a special outing to look forward to on the weekend can go a long way towards making those long days a little easier.
Good luck for the start of school! If you have any September success strategies that have worked well for you and your child, share them in the comments!