Many of our children will be returning back to a learning institution (Pre-school/Kindergarten, Primary School, Secondary School or Post-Secondary settings) in a matter of weeks. As the time to return gets closer, so will our children’s level of anxiety heighten to a detrimental level.
Among the biggest worries of children with Autism Spectrum Disorders and other Comorbid conditions depending on age and stage of development include;
- feeling left out,
- being teased
- saying goodbye to their caregiver at drop off.
- Not being able to understand what is expected of them. (Where do they put their bags, lunch boxes, drink bottles, readers, art smocks, library bags, diaries, pencil cases, work books and electronic devices. Do I take all my books with me on the first day? How do I place a lunch order? Will the canteen be open? What if the teacher asks me to read out loud? What if the teacher asks me a question? What if the children stare at me?
- Being in unfamiliar and therefore unsafe environments. (Where is my locker? Where is my classroom? Will I remember where my Home Room is? What if I get late to my classroom? How do I interpret the new timetable? What if there is no one I know in in my room? What if no one lets me spend time with them during breaks? What if the older kids tease me? What if I don’t know what my teacher is asking? What if I can’t stand the smell of the perfume that my teacher wears? What if someone eats something that smells strange to me and I feel like I’m going to be sick? What if I need to go to the toilet? What if the lights are too bright in my classrooms and the light gives me a headache? What if I can’t control my emotions and I have a meltdown? Will the other students think I’m weird? What if the classroom is too loud and I can’t use my headphones? What if I use my headphones and the other students make fun of me? What if I don’t get invited to a party again this year? What is no one wants to come to my party?
The list of “What if….” is not finite. Different children will have their own areas of anxieties and Sensory Processing Dysregulations that will challenge them throughout their school day.
Due to a range of reasons, many of our children will be returning back to school without having had the benefit of an effective transition program. This leaves them with many unfamiliar and unknown situations. A number of children will revert to a protective default mode. “I don’t want to go to school!”
As families, we can implement our own transition program with the information we already have access to and information we research and locate. Implementing a home designed transition program will enable us to cross off some of the “What Ifs……”
Below is a list of activities that can be implemented prior to your child returning to school to lessen their anxiety levels.
- Have your child wear their uniform for a period of time each day to help them desensitise to uncomfortable or irritating materials.
- Have a dress maker design a uniform that blends with the school uniform but made of material that your child can tolerate.
- Go for a walk or bike ride through the grounds of the school or around the border of the school. Do this regularly over the next few weeks.
- Orchestrate the meeting of some families from the school at a local park.
- Use the school website to take your child through a virtual tour of the school. Many school websites have this function.
- Take photos of the school during one of your walks and place these in a prominent place in your home where your child can view them incidentally during the day.
- Sit with your child to help them write a letter or draw a picture for your child’s teacher. Drop it into the school office prior to the children returning to school.
- Contact your child’s teacher and ask if they can come in before the other children return to familiarise themselves with their learning areas.
- Colour code timetables and work/text books according to the relevant subject.
- Help your child familiarise their timetable and what it means practically.
- Discuss with your child how they will carry two subjects’ materials between period breaks.
- Discuss with your child where you will be waiting for your child at the end of the day.
- Practice opening snack packets, drink bottles, etc. Ensure that your child can access their food.
- Practice hand washing hygiene.
- Create a Social Story book about your child’s school to help your child understand what is going to happen.
- Create a visual schedule for the first day/week of school.
- Schedule a meeting with your teacher to ensure your child’s needs are known and an Individual Learning/Education Plan is drafted.
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