At the heart of autism is an expressive/receptive language disorder. Stereotypically, kids with autism have trouble expressing themselves, and trouble receiving the information given to them by others. This leads to kids who often feel anxious in new situations, and have trouble making friends. Starting school can be especially scary. Here’s how you can help:
1. Take the time to get to know your child’s teachers, ed. techs, and students in the class. That relationship you will be building will help make it easier for school staff to approach you with questions as they arise.
2. Teach those who will interact with your child about your child’s particular brand of autism. Remember the adage, “if you’ve met one kid with autism, you’ve met one kid with autism?” Help others to understand what makes your child unique.
– Facilitate making friends. Help your child make introductions, and help him with those first few conversations.
– Help teachers learn your child’s strengths/weaknesses. Share from your experience regarding what works and what doesn’t.
– Let everyone know what your child is afraid of; what they’re favorites are; try to create bonds.
3. Use kids in the class as part of the “settling in” process. Jake had trouble with arriving at school. He’d push a kid every morning. It had become habit. He meant nothing by it, but was stuck in a rut. Beth made a social story using photos of the kids in Jake’s class high-fiving, waving, smiling Hellos, etc. We read it with him each morning before school. The kids understood the purpose for the story, and because they got to help create it, took ownership of the problem.
4. Offer to spill over what works with your child into the mainstream classroom. Often times strategies employed in Special Ed Land work great with typical students. Jake’s K-2nd grade classrooms did very well with a large, picture schedule on the wall. It helped the neuro-typical kids to have a PECS-like schematic for preparing for class available each morning. There was a picture next to a written list: hang up your coat, take out your homework, choose between hot/cold lunch, sit quietly and begin morning work, etc.
5. Show up, and make yourself known. Beth would pop by for the day rather frequently at first, and less so as people become more confident in their ability to deal with your child. Double-edged sword: on the one hand, it keeps staff on their toes, and provides valuable insights into what works and what doesn’t; but being “in-the-room” can effect how your kid behaves, not always in the positive. You know how most kids seem to behave better for others than they do at home? This is true.