Back-to-School time is an exciting and highly anticipated return for many students; however, it can also be an over-stimulating and overwhelming experience. Here are a few strategies and suggestions to continue to ease the transition back-to-school for your child and family:
1. Make sure your child is well-prepared for what to expect. Before returning to school it may be helpful to visit the new school or new classroom so that your child can familiarize himself or herself with the environment. If possible, point out noteworthy spaces such as the bathroom, cubbies, or “cool down” corner; take pictures if you can! Reading a book or creating an individualized social story about going back to school is another great way to prepare your child for this transition. Choose or create stories that highlight all the fun and exciting aspects of school that your child will get to experience during the upcoming year! Including photos of the new building or classroom and teacher can help to reduce anxiety surrounding the end of summer transition.
2. Establish a bedtime and morning routine. A week before school starts, help your child get back into the swing of weekday school routines by setting up an appropriate sleep and wake schedule. If your child has been staying up later over summer break or vacation, readjust those sleep-wake cycles by getting to bed and waking up 10-15 minutes earlier per day until they are into a healthy hourly range. It is essential that children receive the recommended amount of sleep each night in order to promote energy and attention levels needed for optimal functioning in the classroom. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2017) provide the following recommendations:
3. Facilitate structure and predictable schedules. Creating a family calendar, setting up a routine and set of rules for after-school, and establishing personal and family organizational systems will help not only your child, but your entire family transition into back to school roles with ease. Regular routines, familiarity, and boundaries are all essential in helping children anticipate and understand what is expected from them at various times throughout the day. Creating a visual schedule for your child’s daily routine is a great way to solidify understanding and promote independence, and to facilitate smooth transitions throughout the day. For more information on use of visual supports and visual schedules, visit: https://www.autismspeaks.org/docs/sciencedocs/atn/visual_supports.pdf
4. Prep for school the night before. Have your child help you pick out their outfit for the next day and pack their lunch box and backpack the night before. This will not only help those hectic mornings run more smoothly, but will also promote time management, organizational skills, a sense of responsibility, and independence in self-care.
5. Implement a positive reinforcement system. Using a reward or token system is a great way to encourage your child to participate actively in his or her day-to-day routines. Positive reinforcement may particularly come in handy in resuming routines surrounding homework completion. For example, “each night we complete our homework on-time and initiate our work independently, we earn a star on our chart, at the end of the week if we have 5 stars, we have a family movie night with popcorn!” For more tips on setting up good homework habits as we get back into the swing of the school year, https://aaspeech.com/healthy-homework-habits-from-an-ot/
6. Involve your child in back to school shopping and make it exciting. Take your child school supply shopping and let him or her pick out his or her own items, as much as possible. Let your child test out these fun new supplies before the year begins so that their new tools become familiar, leaving your child less likely to be distracted by or uncomfortable with the look and feel of novel items. If Target and Walmart are tough outings for your child, try heading to the store at off-times, or even have your child help you look ahead online! It’s also helpful to give your child some control over new back to school clothes; it can be motivating and exciting to wear a new outfit to school and can even boost confidence in a new setting. Conversely, if your child is sensitive to clothing textures, be mindful of sending him or her to school in an outfit that hasn’t been worn before; you may need to cut out the tags or pre-wash the clothing with fabric softener to make sure all your child is focused on when he or she gets to school is learning, not the itchy sensation of their new clothes! If your child needs to wear a school uniform, allow him or her to practice wearing it around the house so he or she can get used to the way it looks, feels, and smells before school begins. Make adjustments to the uniform as needed to promote comfort for your child by selecting specific undergarments, pre-washing with fabric softener or unscented detergent, and snip off loose threads or labels.
7. Create a sensory diet to support a regulated state of arousal for your child throughout the school day. Implementing various multi-sensory methods of input (vestibular, proprioceptive, tactile, auditory, visual, gustatory) at various increments can help your child organize his or her body and mind to promote increased concentration and participation to meet the demands of the school day. These strategies can include passive methods, such as sending your child to school wearing a weighted back-pack, as well as active methods such as having your child take a movement break between each sedentary task for wall push ups or to help the teacher pass out materials. For more activities on sensory diets, visit the link below: https://www.sensorysmarts.com/sensory_diet_activities.html
8. Set the tone for open dialogue with school personnel. Take the opportunity at back-to-school night, or send a preemptive email, to introduce yourself to your child’s teachers and communicate any pertinent information that would be beneficial to share about your child, including his or her unique strengths and abilities, as well as those areas where he or she requires more support.
For individualized support as your child prepares to return to school, contact our OT team today to develop strategies for success and customized approaches for achievement!
How Much Sleep Do I Need? (2017, March 02). Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/sleep/about_sleep/how_much_sleep.html
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