As the summer holidays quickly fly by, getting back into the school routine may lead to feelings of anxiety for parents and caregivers. Typically developing children as well as children with different abilities, may also experience fear and anxiety until they settle into the back-to-school routine. Attending school may also be a new experience for the child.
Children who have different speech, language and communication needs such as Autism spectrum disorder, may experience difficulty handling anxiety about the unknown and challenges communicating such feelings may also be present.
Here are some tips that may help children settle into the school routine whilst providing some peace of mind to the parents and caregivers:
1.Make it visual
Children with different abilities are often visual learners and therefore this strength may be utilised in the best way possible. One may create a calendar for the child whereby the child can cross off the days and better understand when school is expected to start. Visual schedules may also help a child to better understand what is coming next. A schedule demonstrating everything from getting dressed, having breakfast, going on the school bus and so on, may significantly help the child. Such visuals may help the parent communicate with the child more effectively and it supports the child’s understanding of the routine. A calm child who knows what to expect, may in turn also communicate better. This also prevents behaviours of concern.
2.Take a school tour
Becoming familiar with the school building may also be helpful. You may take photos during a family trip to the school and create a social story which may be used in the format of a book whereby the parent can explain in pictures what is expected out of the school routine. It may include pictures of the school entrance as well as pictures of whether the child shall be going to school by transport, in the family car or by walk. If possible, providing the child with an opportunity to visit his classroom and meet his teacher and LSE would also be a great way of reducing anxiety.
3.Write a letter with your child addressed to the LSE/ teacher
This letter may include invaluable input for the school staff. Involving the child when writing this letter is also very important. This letter may include strengths, weaknesses, strategies which help the child, the child’s favourite reinforcer (A favourite toy, game etc) as well as important information about dietary restrictions and sensory issues. It provides an opportunity for the child to introduce his/herself and share their likes and dislikes accordingly with reduced pressure to use the verbal mode of communication if this is challenging for the child. Once again, using visuals, allowing the child to draw and express himself in a manner which is comfortable for the child is suggested.
4. Familiarise yourself with the communication device
Sometimes children with Autism or other communication difficulties may use a communication device or a Picture Exchange Communication System (known as PECS), to communicate with those around them. It is crucial for the school staff to be familiar with the device and this also helps both the parents and children to feel more at ease. A Speech and Language Pathologist may also set up a meeting with the teacher and LSE so as to demonstrate how to best use the communication device.
If you think that you can benefit from professional support on this issue you can reach out here.
Kirby Cutajar is a qualified speech and language pathologist with Willingness. She works with clients of all ages with communication challenges due to developmental delays and disabilities.
Autism Speaks (2018). Back to school: 7 tips to help autistic kids. Retrieved from https://www.autismspeaks.org/blog/back-school-17-tips-help-autistic-kids
Hammett, E. (2022). 7 tips to reduce back to school anxiety for parents and children. Retrieved from https://onlinefirstaid.com/7-tips-to-reduce-back-to-school-anxiety-for-parents-and-children/
The Speech Language and Communication Company (n.d). Stress and anxieties associated with SLCN. Retrieved from https://speech-language-communication-company.uk/2022/04/22/stress-anxieties/