It’s that time of the year again – school is starting up again soon, along with our hopes and expectations for a positive learning experience for our teens. Some maybe returning to the same school; others may be moving from middle school up to high school, or changing from high school to a transition program; others may only be changing classrooms or teachers. Whatever the situation, any type of transition or change can be stressful for a teen on the spectrum. The start of a new school year can also be stressful for parents and teachers.
I first posted this article on the Examiner.com last August (2009), but it is still useful information so I am reposting now.
On August 15th,2009, I presented at the annual “Back to School” Autism / Asperger conference in Pasadena and had the opportunity to refresh my memory on some good readiness skills for the start of the new school year. A2Z Educational Advocates based in Pacific Palisades had some good tips to share in a “Back to School Guide” they were handing out. Following are some tips from both the “Back to School Guide” and from my book Adolescents on the Autism Spectrum to help the transition go smoothly for your teen or student:
- If your student is moving to a new school or classroom, take photos or videos of the new environment, including the areas he/she will be walking through. If possible, take the teen to the new location before school starts and practice walking around the empty campus. Have him /her notice some visual landmarks he/she will be able to see when the campus is full of students, and explain to him/her how to use these as points of references when walking from one place to another.
- Prime your teen by talking to him/her about the upcoming school year, the teacher and expectations, as well as any fears or concerns your teen has. Creating a photo album together or writing social stories can be very helpful. Even if your teen does not have good communication skills or is non-verbal, he/she can learn to understand and make the connection, so it is worth the effort to take the extra time to do this. Going over the appropriate behaviors and social interaction for the school environment can also be helpful. Many students find having a set of ‘rules’ for school behavior helpful. Focus on the positive!
- Help your teen get organized to prepare for the school year.
- Use color-coded folders to organize the work for the different classes.
- Get a planner for your teen. Many schools have a homework planner, and your teen can use this to keep track of homework assignments. Show him/her how to write his assignments in the planner and reinforce him/her for doing so through out the school year.
- Designate a spot in your teen’s backpack for forms, notes and so on that come home from school, and make sure your teen and the school staff know where that is.
- If your teen is fully included in a school that follows block scheduling such as in some North San Diego County high schools (one day is periods 1,3,5; the next day is periods 2,4,6) you may wish to consider having two separate backpacks for the two different block days days.
- If your teen needs assistance to organize himself and stay organized (as mentioned above), his / her IEP may need to include accommodations, strategies, and goals related to learning these skills. Being able to get and stay organized is an important life skill everyone needs to learn
In my next column, tips on how to make the transition back to school easier for parents and teachers will be discussed.