Back-to-School Strategies for Parents of Kids with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD)

By Elizabeth Reeve, coauthor of The Survival Guide for Kids with Autism Spectrum Disorders (And Their Parents)

Back-to-School Strategies for Parents of Kids with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD)The transition back to school can be challenging for all families. For families with children on the autism spectrum, the start of school offers special challenges. Changes in routines, schedules, transportation, school meals, and classrooms can be overwhelming for the ASD student. Effectively communicating your ASD child’s needs to his teaching team can make the transition to a new school year much smoother! Here are some tips to get the new school year off to a good start.

Highlight the Positives
Your child is unique. Showcase her strengths, and provide teachers a way to use those strengths. For example, if your child is nonverbal but has some unique ways to communicate, instruct the teacher on how to connect with her. Perhaps your first-grader-to-be is an outstanding speller; let her teacher know that she would be able to practice social skills by helping other students with spelling.

Be Honest
Provide open and honest information about your child to the school staff and team that will be supporting him. While we all want our children to be viewed in a positive light, sugarcoating negative behaviors causes confusion for teachers. It is helpful for the staff to know that your child may engage in negative behaviors when stressed or at times of change. Think of this not as a warning to the teaching staff but as an opportunity to help them understand what works to help your child during times of stress. The best predictor of the future is the past, so don’t assume this year is going to be different. Be ready to advocate for your child’s needs and instruct others on how to help him be successful.

Be Proactive
Tell the staff in advance about things that have helped your child in previous school years. It’s okay to let teachers know that your child might need to be removed before the fire alarm goes off or that she always takes off her shoes when she sits down at her desk. Share with staff when you like to be called about your child’s behavior and when it is okay for the teacher to wait to communicate things until the end of the day.

Be Realistic
Teaching is a hard job, as is parenting. Remind yourself that your child’s teacher has your child’s best interests at heart but may not always do things the way you expect. It is easy to forget that what is intuitive to you (because you know your child best) may be puzzling and frustrating to the teacher. You can tell when a meltdown is imminent, but the teacher has never lived with your child and does not have your day-to-day experience.

Ask for Help
Sometimes the job of parenting just becomes too big and too hard. The start of the school year is a great time to take advantage of a fresh set of eyes to see your child from another perspective. Let the school team know what you struggle with at home and ask for suggestions about what works to help behaviors at school.

Be Grateful
Your child is going to school. He is learning every day. It may seem immeasurable, but change is occurring. Thank the bus driver for waiting while your child refused to leave the house without his favorite action figure. Tell the hall monitor that you appreciate how she always makes sure the bathroom is quiet before your child enters. Tell the gym teacher that you are grateful he taught your child how to open the heavy school door so next year he can go into school with no help.

And Finally, Be Humble
Your child is wonderful, but so are all the other children in the school. You are busy, but so is everyone else. As a parent, you are scared, tired, worried, and so much more. Tell the teacher those things. Let her know you are human and that you care. Let her know that you will do everything you can to make your child’s year as perfect as it can be, and that you will do it with the teacher, as a team.

Elizabeth ReeveElizabeth Reeve, M.D., is a child psychiatrist in Minnesota, and her clinical work focuses primarily on children and adults with developmental disabilities. In addition to her research and patient care, Elizabeth is involved in teaching, speaks in the community to educate others in the field of developmental disabilities, and helps young adults with ASD transition into college and the workforce.

Survival Guide Kids with ASDsElizabeth Reeve is coauthor of The Survival Guide for Kids with Autism Spectrum Disorders (And Their Parents)

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