Back to School Strategies for Kids with Autism

June 22, 2017

It is often said that time flies when you’re having fun, and it seems like this summer has flown by! Can you believe that the start of school is already upon us? Over the summer months, your normally structured scheduled may have become lax. The kids stay up a little later, they watch more TV and lunch consists of pizza or sandwiches! For many, the start of school means a change in routine such as an earlier bedtime, a decrease in screen time or even a new teacher or school. This can be a difficult transition for all children but especially those with autism. Frequently, those on the autism spectrum insist on consistency, and demonstrate an inflexible adherence to routines; even the smallest changes can result in a meltdown.

Communication and preparation may be two key factors in helping ease your child into a new routine. Communication is imperative when forming a relationship between the educational and home settings. This can include communicating with your child’s teacher as well as your child. Today, it is easier than ever to communicate with your child’s teacher, as most schools offer email access to their staff which makes communicating a breeze! It is also important to communicate with your child. Simply put, talk to them. As the start of school nears, talk to them about the upcoming changes. Try to ease your child’s fears by discussing the new routine with them. Talking about waking up earlier, meeting new teachers and friends, or even trying new foods may be important conversations. Social stories can also be a great resource.

Preparing your family for changes is another important factor. In the upcoming weeks, it may be beneficial to start practicing the new routine. If you plan to implement an earlier bedtime or waking up earlier than normal, slowly start incorporating this into your daily routine. For example, if the summer bedtime was 10:00 p.m. but you now want bedtime to be at 8:00 p.m., try easing into the change. On the first night, try a 9:45 p.m. bedtime. As this is successful, try 9:30 and so on. When you wake up, try practicing your new morning routine by having the kids dress in school clothes, complete self-care tasks, and eat a quick breakfast. Using a timer may be a great visual tool as well. This will allow everyone to see how much longer they have to complete given tasks. You can even put a fun twist on it by trying to beat the clock each day! As part of your new routine, it may be beneficial to gather needed items the night before, such as picking out appropriate clothing and gathering backpacks and supplies.

Back to School Tips

Many schools offer a ‘meet the teacher’ night. Take advantage of this! While you are there, you and your child should not only meet the teacher but explore the classroom. If you notice any potential concerns, bring this up to the teacher. Some children may be easily distracted by a window, others elope so sitting next to the door may not be the best option. Also, explore the school campus. Locate the bathroom, lunchroom, gym, and any other places that may be of importance.

While you are there, be sure to snap a few pictures. Having pictures of locations and staff can be useful in creating your own social story! If your child is on medications, be sure to meet with the school nurse. Also, ask for a copy of the school breakfast and lunch menus. Having a visual schedule alleviates any surprises and may allow your child to easily transition into the new mealtime routine. Talk to your child about the foods that will be available and on days that a non-preferred meal is served, plan to take a lunch that day. A visual schedule may also be beneficial for both bedtime and morning routines. Utilizing a calendar is another great visual tool. Allow your child to ‘X’ off each day as a countdown to the start of school. You can also do this for upcoming class parties, holidays, etc.

Despite all the planning and preparation, things happen. Remember, it may take a week or two to adjust to the changes and there will be mishaps along the way. Your day won’t always go as scheduled and tantrum behaviors and meltdowns will occur but it’s ok. If you have a child on the spectrum, chances are you also have a behavior plan. Be sure to share this with your child’s teacher and schedule a time to provide training if needed.

Tips for Kids with Autism Going Back to School


  • Communicate with the teacher and other relevant staff. Discuss concerns and monitor your child’s progress regularly.
  • Communicate with your child. Be open and honest. Explain routines and expectations.
  • Use social stories

Be Prepared and Practice

  • Practice new routines such as earlier bedtimes.
  • Practice the morning routine including dressing and self-care as well as eating breakfast within a specified time.
  • Gather clothing and supplies the night before.

Meet the Teacher

  • Introduce your child to the teacher and classroom environment.
  • Inspect the classroom and discuss any concerns.
  • Explore the campus. Locate bathrooms, lunchroom, etc.
  • Discuss behavior plans if warranted.

Visual Schedules

  • Calendars
  • School Menu’s
  • Bedtime and Morning routine schedules
  • Timer (if needed)

Remember, every child is different. While these recommendations are meant to be helpful, if you find a strategy that works, stick with it. What works for one person, may not work for the other. Hoping everyone has a Spectacular start to the school year!

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