• Cory Morrison

Autism: Getting ready for back to elementary school

School starts in a few weeks for many in Ontario. This time can be nerve-wracking for a lot of children, including people with autism. How do I make the transition to the new school year smooth for my child, especially with COVID-19 restrictions continuing?

HFA Today's Cory Morrison explores some ways to make everything easier for all involved based on his experiences.

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Find out who the child's teacher is early if possible.


During most of my elementary years, the special education resource teachers or administration would let my parents know weeks or even months in advance who my teacher would be for the coming school year. There was usually no need for me to check the class list on the Friday before school starts as my peers would do. This communication was likely so my parents and I can better mentally prepare for what to expect during the school year because of my challenges with autism and handling change.


Since teachers set up their classrooms later in August, it will also be good to contact the involved staff members to see if your child can meet the teacher and go in the classroom a week or two before the school year begins. I did this activity a few times throughout my schooling career.


Warn the child that the unexpected may happen.


Change is not something many people on the autism spectrum and I can handle well. Sometimes teachers can be replaced or go on a leave of absence for many reasons; maybe the child became good friends with peers the past year that won't end up in their class this year, changes such as the time your child eats lunch at may occur, or new curriculum expectations may come up that your child may not feel ready for yet.

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Also, since COVID-19 isn't over yet, one shouldn't be too surprised if the schools close again or if the way a school runs things is not quite pre-COVID life, such as limited assemblies, extra-curricular activities or field trips. I recommend talking with your child about the fun alternatives if the 2021-22 school year becomes another unusual one.


Whatever the situation may be, do remind your child that things could turn out differently than they expected and that these issues are not in your or their control.


Understand the curriculum for your child's grade to let them know what to expect


I remember entering many grades and feeling overwhelmed by some of the content simply because I either had no prior knowledge of anything related to it or couldn't understand some of the terms. For example, it took a long time for me to understand that volume needs to be measured in litres and not grams and the difference between obtuse and acute triangles. I needed constant assistance in some of these areas.

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As boring as doing work during the summer can be, and I do remember the feeling because I was hesitant whenever my mother would try this with me, it will be a good idea to review some of these next grade concepts with your child. This way, they'll know what to expect during the school year and might get good grades as a result.


Volunteer at the school


If the child feels more comfortable at school knowing you're there, volunteering at the school often or occasionally may help them feel at home in the school environment. My parents, particularly my mother, did this on some occasions in my earlier school years. For example, when I entered my second elementary school, as it first opened, my mother sewed a banner for the school's main lobby and a quilt for the library. It made me feel a part of the school community, knowing that my mother contributed to something like that.


Even in other situations such as camp or swimming lessons, I felt more included if the instructors met my parents positively.


If you haven't let your child know that you will help out at the school but plan to, let them know so they could feel more comfortable.


Conclusion


In my experience, the school year should be a good one as long as there is an emphasis on one important thing: Communication. Communicate with your child regarding school and their teachers can make a big positive difference.


You may also like: Autism: Elementary school: How do I teach an autistic person?

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