The beginning of a school year can wreak havoc on kids who crave order. Our Autism Expert gives us some tips on how to help with school anxiety in children.
It’s hard to believe it’s Back to School season, isn’t it? After a long, sweltering summer, personally, I am happy cooler days are finally ahead. When my daughter was younger, the first few weeks – ok, several weeks, let’s be honest – of transitioning from summer to school we’re like riding an airplane in windy weather. Some moments were fine, while others felt us moving a few paces backwards.
For many families with a super special kid in the house, this adjustment to change, though unwelcome, is normal. As you and your family get into gear, let’s talk about the concept of “change” and how to help with the transition from summer to the school year so it will flow a little easier.
First, it’s important to understand why change appears to get such a bad rap in the autism community. There are many sayings such as “I hate change,” “Change is never good,” etc. We can laugh about it when our favorite TV character says it, but in reality, the anxiety that surrounds change is very real and takes a toll on everyone.
Recognizing that change is something kids on the Autism Spectrum truly don’t care for will best prepare you when working through it. Here are a few quick tips on how to help with school anxiety in children to get you started!
HELPING WITH SCHOOL ANXIETY IN CHILDREN
1) Create a loose (yes, loose) schedule for your child.
Do this each week and go over it with him or her. Knowing what to expect each day – and when – brings a sense of calm, and helps them trust that the world is under control. There are no sneaky surprises around the corner to throw everything off. Depending on your child, you may want to add such things as “music class” day, “OT day,” and “allergy shots.” In other words, be specific without being overwhelming.
2) Revisit the schedule as needed…
…but let your child in on the planning. Allow them the opportunity to be involved in the process. Planning dinner or a reasonable family activity is a good start.
3) Let your child pack his own lunch.
Assuming he is old enough, this simple task has multiple benefits! Not only does this allow your child to be in charge of his own lunch, but it also introduces him to Executive Functioning skills, which he’ll need throughout life. (If there are motor coordination issues be there to help, but resist the temptation to do it all for him. Also, keep it healthy moms and dads.)
4) Pay attention to his moods before and after school.
Is there anxiety when leaving the house? Or do you sense something happened during the school day? Sometimes, this can stress be due to peers or even teachers (as with any student), but it can also be that something unexpected happened and he was thrown off (like a surprise school assembly, substitute teacher or fire drill.) It could also be something unwelcome involving the sensory world (watching a movie with the lights off, art class that involved gooey, sticky stuff, or that loud fire drill. By the way, fire drills bring both unwanted change and sensory overload, don’t they?) Being in tune with your child will help you be an even better parent.
5) Celebrate at least one success each and every day.
Remember, these are kids, and they will have bad days as well all do. Those with autism tend to internalize these moments stronger and longer than most kids. Yes, if your child needs a “parenting moment,” step up. However, also look for at least one positive thing to encourage him for. Although he may not respond to it in a way you’d like, he really is internalizing your positive expressions and confidence in him and that will go a very long way. Trust me!
The beginning of the school year wreaks havoc on the longing for order. However, keep in mind that school actually brings with it a huge sense of order (for most students), so things will settle down after a bit.
Despite the turbulence that windy weather brings when flying, we’ve always taken off and landed safely. Understanding your child’s attitude toward the many changes a new school year brings, as well as ones that will be sprinkled throughout, will help all of you have a smoother take-off, landing the year strong, as well!