The Full Spectrum: Back-To-School Advice For Parents Of Special Needs Kids

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Back-to-school anticipation is putting everyone in my family on edge this week – especially me. All kids get a bit anxious this time of year but when you have a kid with an autism spectrum disorder (ASD) – my older son, who’s about to enter Grade 4, was diagnosed with Aspergers in Grade 1 – it is particularly stressful. Transitions always seem to bring out behavioral issues. Add to that the pressure of dealing with new teachers, school principals and the myriad of things ASD moms have to put in place for the school year, and you have a recipe for family disaster.

Here are a few tips (though probably more reminders for most moms of kids with special needs) to help you and your kids stay sane:

Get back on a good bedtime/wake-up routine. At least five nights before school starts, make sure the kids are going to bed on time. If you’re lucky enough to have kids who sleep in, start waking them up at around the time they’ll need to be up for school. This alone will help with behavior and anxiety. A good sleep cures almost anything.

Get them excited about school…but not too excited. It’s a fine line between preparedness and overkill. If you talk incessantly to your child about starting school, he’s going to pick up on the fact that you’re stressed. A few subtly placed conversations about some exciting things that will be happening at school this year should do the trick.

Update your IEP (independent education program). Most kids with ASDs have an IEP and it should be updated and reviewed annually. Don’t let the school brush you off; keep nudging them until you can secure a meeting.

Visit the new classroom. Ideally, you would have your child meet his teacher before school starts – but that is not always possible. Try to arrange a visit to the classroom and you just might catch a moment with the teacher, too.

Set up a few one-on-one play dates. It is much easier to transition back to school if you feel comfortable with your classmates. One-on-one play dates will help reinforce relationships and remind your kids that there are fun and safe friends at school.

Dangle a carrot (or gluten-free cookie). I am not above bribery. Have your child choose something small that she can receive at the end of the week for following the classroom routines. Not the best parenting technique but, hey, it works.

Make a calendar. I am usually critical of any tip that involves doing crafts with your child, but this one can be done in minutes and doesn’t have to be fancy. They’ll love using a ruler to draw out the lines, and you can fill it in with all the fun stuff happening during the first month of school.

Save after-school programs for October. If possible, it is best not to start programs in September. Too much new stuff can be overwhelming for a kid with an ASD. I find a lot of programs don’t start until October, anyway, so stick with those or miss the first few, if possible. It could make the difference between them sticking with the program or backing out due to “newness” fatigue.

Talk to the class. Depending on the age of your child, you may want to consider talking to the class about Aspergers or ASDs. You can choose whether or not to identify your child or just to talk more generally about how everyone is different and the many ways people’s brains work. This is an incredible lesson for all kids and can help with tolerance. There are lots of books out there like Jude Welton’s Can I Tell You about Asperger Syndrome and All Cats Have Asperger Syndrome by Kathy Hoopmann.

Many of these tips are things most we Aspergers moms are used to doing with our eyes closed, but back-to-school anxiety strikes us all and can make us feel paralyzed. Writing this helped me get focused for the days ahead and I hope it helps you remember not to sweat the small stuff (yikes, did I just say that?). Focus on the eight or nine key items that can make a big difference in a successful start for everyone in the family (especially us moms).

(Photo: Comstock)