How can I prepare my child for a transition to a new school?

Answer: Whether you are switching schools, moving from elementary to junior high or junior high to high school, or starting school for the first time, entering into a new school environment can be stressful for the child with autism.

There are a few things a parent can do to make this transition a success. Call the school and ask if you and your child may do a tour of the building and view the classrooms. The best scenario is to do this in June before the end of the school year and then again in August before school starts – it’s a good idea to refresh the child’s memory after the summer break. Bring your camera and take photos of the relevant rooms your child will be using (i.e. the gym, library, front office, playground, the classroom). If the teachers and office staff are there, take their pictures as well. Assemble the photos into a book and label them so that the child can look at these photos with you and on his own.

Try to meet the teacher in June if possible. This gives you a chance to discuss your child’s needs, what helps them to be successful, and supports that they may need. If certain supports need to be ordered, this can be done before the September so all the materials are there and ready to go at the start of the school year.

If your child will take the bus, drive the route a few times over the summer to create predictability. Play on the playground periodically over the summer if at all possible. The more familiar your child is with all aspects of the school day, the less stress there will be.

Create a checklist of new school routines to provide predictability and lessen anxiety. This can be taped to the inside of a binder or agenda for easy reference. A checklist can be created by looking at the school handbook or newsletter. An example of this would be:

  • 8:40 Bell Rings
  • 8:45 Go to locker and put backpack and coat in there.
  • 8:50 Proceed to classroom etc.

Be sure to list times for class change, recess times, lunch and dismissal times. Walk your child through these new routines. This is most effective when done at the school because children with autism have difficulty imagining they are in a different place when they are at home. Photos can help with this process, though.

Write a social story about transitioning from summertime to school. Highlight the big changes that may cause anxiety such as waking up earlier, taking the bus, or eating lunch at school rather than at home.

Transitions are a process and take time to become comfortable with. The more opportunities you can provide to increase familiarity with the new school situation, the more likely your child will feel less stressed about the move.

Recommended Reading for Transitioning to a New School:

  1. My New School: A Workbook to Help Students Transition to a New School
  2. Successful School Change and Transition for the Child with Asperger Syndrome

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