Norrin was barely three-years-old when I put him on the school bus for the first time. He was still in diapers and had no language. The autism diagnosis was still so new. I had no idea what to do or what to expect. I was scared but had no choice but to send him to school and put him on the bus.
Related: The Day He Was Diagnosed with Autism
Hate to break it to – just because I’ve been putting him on a bus and sending him to school since he was a practically a baby, it doesn’t get any easier. But I’ve learned some things since that first September. Things that have made a difference to make Norrin’s transition easier, to help his teacher understand him better and to put my mind at ease.
8 back to school tips for a smooth transition & easier school year
The Introduction Letter. I’ve been doing this for the last few years. I write an introduction letter to the main teacher and one for each therapist. My letter includes: diagnosis, progress made over the last year, usual disposition, strengths, weaknesses, activities he enjoys, activities that are frustrating, items he’ll work for, our concerns, any self stimulating behaviors (what he does/when he does it/how we redirect him), goals that mean the most to us and contact information. But there’s no one set laundry list of what to include in your letter. (One year, I listed all the words Norrin knew how to say.) Tweak your letter and add information that is critical for your child.
Get contact information for bus driver and matron. Your relationship with the bus driver and matron is just as important as your relationship with your child’s teacher. Be sure to exchange contact information immediately. Ask for their names and remember them. Let them know if your child likes to sit by the window or gets car sick – anything that will make the ride to school easier for everyone. This year I plan on trying something new. I’m going to greet the bus driver and matron with gift card for a local coffee shop. It doesn’t need to be much, just enough for a coffee and sweet treat. I want them to know how much I appreciate them.
Know who is in your child’s class. On the second or third day of school, I ask the teacher for the names of the other students. It’s rare that Norrin tells me who he’s played with or sat next to and most times he just blurts out random names. When I know the names of his classmates, I use that in our conversation to try and figure out Norrin’s day.
Provide book suggestions. If you have a young child in a “typical” public school or in an inclusion class, provide some material to educate the other students. Two books I really like are This is Gabriel Making Sense of School and My Friend with Autism. Both books are written in a clear and simple language for children to understand the diagnosis and let them know what to expect from your child.
Related: The Sensory Child Gets Organized
Make sure your child’s IEP is being followed. Your child’s IEP is a legal document and his school has to follow it. At your first meeting with your child’s teacher, tell her that you will stop by or email at the end of the week to see if she has any questions specific to the IEP after she has read it. Being clear about your expectations from the beginning makes any relationship easier.
Speaking of IEPs… If your child has Sensory Processing Disorder, you may want to provide the teacher with a Sensory Accommodations Checklist. Many of the accommodations can also be included in your child’s IEP.
Download your Sensory Accommodation Suggestion Checklist ⇒ Sensory Accommodation Suggestions.
Hartley Steiner (author of This is Gabriel Making Sense of School) shared this checklist with me a few years ago. I recreated it as FREE printable. Hartley is in the process of writing a new book series.
Goals. Don’t push your child toward new skills or goals until they get settled into school. For example, if you’re working on getting your child to look people in the eyes more, don’t push that when school starts. Your goal the first week of school is just to get back into the routine and see where things are.
Incorporate an at home reward system and keep weekly track of good behavior. We use the Melissa & Doug Deluxe Wooden Magnetic Responsibility Chart With 90 Magnets.
Every year is different and I still start every school year not knowing what to expect. But I take comfort in knowing what to do to set my child up for a successful school year.