While going back to school can be stressful for everybody, kids with conditions like autism, anxiety or ADHD may have more difficulties coping with the changes of schedule,
expectations and routine. April Artz of Squirrel Hill Psychological Services is a therapist and director of Quest Camp, JF&CS’s summer program for kids with complex needs. From her very experienced perspective, she offers parents some suggestions for a happy, healthy transition back to school.
1. Emphasize the positive. Encourage optimism, and cultivate a sense of calm and
confidence. Discuss the worries openly, but don’t feed them.
2. If your house is still on summer “sleep-in schedule,” start working your way back to a
weekday sleep schedule. Moving bedtimes in small increments over a couple weeks makes
the move smoother.
3. Starting in a new school this year? Nobody wants to get lost on the first day in a new school. Visit the school in advance, and go over all the relevant routes: classroom, locker, cafeteria and bathroom. Take the cell phone along and take pictures your child can refer to, if necessary.
4. If your child has difficulties with organization, create an organizational system to help them stay on track, especially as they grow older and face more challenging work at school. Some families color-code folders for each subject; others use a large binder with individual folders inside. The point is to work out a system that makes sense and works for your child.
5. If your child is eligible for special education services, schedule an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) meeting early in the school year. School districts’ tendency to “wait and see” how a child is doing can work against kids with executive functioning deficits (difficulty with time management, organization and/or planning) or alternative ways of learning. They can easily get disorganized and fall behind. A proactive IEP meeting allows for teachers to be informed of the student’s strengths and deficits, and it is a good time to assess and incorporate goals.
6. How are students expected to keep track of their assignments? Will they have to write everything down, or is there an online system that can be accessed daily? Keeping track of assignments and when they are due is a crucial skill that each and every student needs to master.
7. Many of these children lack skills in discerning nuance or understanding different behaviors and expectations from different teachers. Learn as much as you can about the people your child will be spending the day with, and calmly talk out as much as possible beforehand.
April’s final reminder is most important: all kids want to be successful at school. Those
children who have a history of struggling in school, whatever the reason, too often get labeled “bad”, “lazy” or “stupid.” “Parents of kids with complex needs probably already know all about the extra effort it takes to develop, practice and reinforce effective strategies that will give their children the tools to succeed,” she says. “But they just need to remember that the extra time and effort is well worth it. Positive experiences at school lead to more academic achievement, improved personal development and hopefully, a lifelong love of learning!”
JF&CS holds a Quest after school program during the school year, and provides clinical
consultation services to several local schools and early childhood centers. Contact April if you would like more information about either of these programs.