For parents of neurodiverse kids, the “back to school” season usually brings with it one consistent emotion: feeling overwhelmed. Any kind of abrupt change, in general, can be difficult for learners with autism, ADHD, ODD, or other neurodiverse diagnoses. Tack on navigating a post-pandemic world, and you have a challenge that no one was prepared for.
Parents, then, are left scrambling to find strategies to make this transition as easy as possible. But what exactly are those strategies?
If you find yourself feeling like this, take a deep breath! With a little bit of preparation and strategy, you will be ready to embrace the turn of the season head-on. Let’s check out these back-to-school tips for neurodiverse students.
Just tuck the following few tips in your back pocket, use them as the school year rounds the corner, and get excited for days filled with your kiddo beaming from ear-to-ear as they walk in the door from school.
1. Create a visual schedule
The first way to get on top of the upcoming back-to-school schedule is to make a visual schedule of what the typical school day will look like. If you can get in touch with your child’s special education teacher or guidance counselor, you can request a detailed schedule of their classes, lunchtimes, and any other routines.
Then, sit down with your kiddo and create a calendar or a visual schedule together. By creating a plan before school begins, the abrupt change from a summer schedule to a school schedule will be less overwhelming. They will know what to expect.
Pro tip: One of the best ways to do this is by getting a visual schedule app and setting it up to automatically run through the daily schedule. This way, your child can take a consistent visual schedule with them wherever they go. They can also check it whenever they want. If you are worried about a personal device being distracting, there are distraction-free devices with no web browser, app store, youtube, etc. that you can get apps like this on.
You can begin trying some of these new schedules a few days before school starts. For example, implementing a new bedtime and morning routine a week or two before class can help ease the transition.
2. Use social stories
Social stories can prepare your child for what they will experience when the school year begins. Pick out a situation and describe it in short, narrative, first-person descriptions to make a social story. You can make this fun!
You can use visual aids, like photographs or illustrations, in your social stories. To make yours more realistic, as you prepare your child for heading back to school, you can ask for school photos or videos of what the school will look like. You could even schedule a time to meet with their teacher in the school a few weeks before school begins.
3. Learn and teach the school’s COVID protocols
Explaining what to expect regarding your school’s specific COVID protection policies is essential. Ask the school to explain to you:
- Any hand-washing rules they may have
- If a mask is necessary
- What social-distancing policies may be in place
- Any other protocols that may be new
Practicing these procedures beforehand can be helpful so that they feel familiar to your child. It will also keep any drastic changes in day-to-day routines from last year to this year feel less overwhelming.
4. Take care of yourself as a parent
This might go without saying, but parenting and running on empty do not exactly make a good team. As a parent, take note of your emotional health and make the time to recharge when you need to. How do you de-stress as a parent of a neurodiverse learner? Are you making an effort to do so? Are you learning to lean on the community around you?
Helping your neurodiverse child dive back into the school setting does not have to be daunting. It should be exhilarating! Take the time to plan, help them feel prepared, and embrace the change. Even though the back-to-school season might mean feeling overwhelmed, it also means growth and progress for your child. What could be more exciting?