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We have three children, each unique with their back to school ritual.

The daughter was ready to purchase back to school supplies in mid-July and had her closets and desk organized in anticipation of the workload and expectations at the new middle school.

The youngest was unsure about school, simply because it means having to wear clothing other than his summer uniform – a bathing suit.

The oldest boy was anxious about the new school year in April. Yes, April. Kevin is on the autism spectrum. Change of routine, new expectations, new people and many other facets create anxiety for him…and us. We have various techniques we use to address his concerns and ease him through his self-regulation process.

Back to School = Increase in Anxiety

If you live with autism or work with these amazing persons, I’m sure you have seen the spectrum of how the condition affects them. Any child can have anxiety with the new school year, yet these kids feel it and deal with it in a multitude of ways.

In some cases, like my son, they may have started new schools, in other cases, there may be the switch to a new teaching team. Increased hand flapping and other perseverations, disruptions in sleep, increased aggression, speech changes, and bowel and digestive issues may all increase.

What can we do to help with the anxiety and transitions?

Use Visuals to Support the Transition

At HeARTs for Autism® we have a strategy of starting early in conversations about upcoming changes with the children. Depending on the verbal level of the child, we talk about what to expect with the school routine, and regardless of verbal level, we find using visual supports helps. Here are some of our strategies:

Use Pictures

Pictures of the routine during the day, the new school or classroom, etc. can help to create familiarity. You can use these pictures to create “stories” about the day.

Play Act

We have used little action figures or [easyazon-link asin=”B001COHSPS” locale=”us”]puppets[/easyazon-link] to “play” the parts of the bus driver, the teacher, other children, the lunch aides, or whoever they may encounter. This play acting and role modeling can have a soothing effect over time, as we help the kids to recognize they can anticipate possibilities and self regulate.

Create Social Stories

We have used story cards to create social stories and set up rules and expectations for the children. You can use them like the story sequence card games. It helps to enhance imagination and executive function as well.

Draw Pictures

You can have the children draw their own pictures to communicate their desires as well. We are major proponents of self-advocacy for kids.  Get them to draw a picture, speak some words, dance a dance, build a Lego model or whatever they like to do.  Then link this activity to self-expression with desired outcomes. We have expectations of the children, and they have expectations of us and of themselves.

Creative expression can be a way to support a child’s communication. Think about what your child likes to do. How can this be used to engage them and create opportunities to share what is going on inside of them?

With the use of visuals, play, stories and creativity, Kevin was able to self-regulate and experience a smoother transition into the new school year.