7 Ways Parents and Caregivers Can Support Autistic Students to Start the School Year
At a Glance
Personalized Preparation: This post delves into tailored strategies to make sure autistic students feel well-prepared and supported as they embark on the new school year, emphasizing the importance of individual comfort levels and communication.
Key Tips: Highlights include creating a conducive homework space, fostering healthy habits, providing emotional backing, setting clear goals, encouraging independence, maintaining connections with the entire support network, and consistently reassuring the child of available assistance.
Open Communication is Key: Regular check-ins, setting shared expectations, and actively involving the whole support system ensures a successful transition. Moreover, a united approach helps in effectively addressing challenges and ensuring students feel equipped to tackle their academic journey.
In last week’s blog post we talked about some logistical tips for parents and caregivers to help ensure a smooth start to the school year.
As important as managing the logistics of transitioning and starting the school year can be to the success and wellbeing of your child, equally important is ensuring that we are paying attention to how well-prepared they feel about the start of the year and supporting them in meeting their needs and goals.
This post leans into some jumping off points for providing more individualized support for your child so they can feel prepared to focus on meeting their goals, knowing they will have the help of their support network when it is needed!
1. Create a homework and study space.
The end goal of creating a homework/study space is to have an area at home that is conducive to concentration and getting work done, but equally valuable is the collaborative process of creating the space and figuring out what goes into that ideal space to best fit the needs of the person you are supporting. For some students the perfect study space might include lots of familiar comfort items, an easy outlet for regulation or breaks, or an easy way to access help.
For others it might mean limiting auditory and visual stimulus and making sure they are not interrupted. Not only does working together help create the optimal space, figuring out what helps and what doesn’t when it comes to completing tasks can be applied across different settings and contexts!
Creating a study space might seem like an intuitive idea, but don’t underestimate the value of putting a little extra time, effort, and collaboration into the process!
2. Work together on healthy habits and routines.
Good nutrition, hygiene, and daily routines can go a long way toward helping students feel prepared to meet the day and have the energy to get through everything they need to do. The start of the school year can also be a chaotic time where some of those routines and habits go out the window as everyone figures out how to navigate new situations and challenges.
As a parent or caregiver you can play an incredibly helpful role in setting some anchor points to ensure those good habits continue, and work with your child to establish routines and nutrition schedules that feel like they can be accomplished and maintained.
Remember, if you are implementing new schedules and routines it doesn’t all have to go perfectly on day 1! Better to build up a series of small successes over time than try to fit in more than is practical to accomplish all at once!
3. Offer emotional support.
The start of each school year represents a major transition and can be a difficult period for a whole variety of reasons, some of which might be readily apparent to us as caregivers and others which might seem harder to understand. Regardless of what may be emotionally triggering in a particular moment, it is crucial to offer unconditional support.
In situations where we don’t fully understand what is going on it can be all to easy to fall into the trap of questioning our child’s reality or coming across as not taking the problem seriously, even if we just want to get a better sense of what is going on!
The most crucial thing is ensuring that your child continues to feel comfortable coming to you when they need support, and means always making clear that your support comes first.
4. Discuss goals and expectations.
Of all the potential frustrations that can come at the beginning of the school year, confusion around shared goals and expectations can be one of the most demoralizing.
As challenging as it can be to have awareness of some difficult gaps between you and your goals, it is that much worse to feel like you are constantly falling short without even knowing what you are supposed to be aiming for.
Even if you think you are on the same page as the person you are supporting when it comes to goals and expectations, it is still a great idea to regularly check in, especially during major transition periods like the start of the school year.
In a similar vein, if there is a need to discuss a particular gap and strategies for addressing it, that’s also a great time to contextualize that gap and its importance to meeting pre-agreed goals and expectations. Opening up this line of communication may or may not make addressing the challenge itself easier, but it will help everyone feel like our best efforts are being put to good use.
5. Encourage independence and autonomy.
Whatever grade level the student you are supporting may be entering, school is meant to help students establish greater personal independence and autonomy over time.
For parents and caregivers, balancing greater independence and autonomy with offering needed supports can sometimes be a tricky balancing act. It can be even trickier if you feel like you need to implement all sorts of things at once, which can be an overwhelming process in its own right!
One great way to approach encouraging independence and autonomy is to allow your child to make choices, solve problems, or take responsibility for their belongings in a way that does not feel like too big of an immediate leap from the status quo.
Perhaps, for example, your child might be overwhelmed at the thought of putting together their entire morning routine on their own. But they can start with picking out the breakfasts they want for the week, then perhaps make some decisions about clothes whether it’s putting together their own outfit or picking from a few options laid out.
The other great part about this strategy is that it can help identify some lines where your child may prefer to have some support over being completely independent as well. The crucial part is not getting to a certain point by a certain time, but to keep moving forward and keep checking in!
6. Stay connected with the whole support network.
As you’ve followed along with these tips there’s a good chance they’ve spurred some thinking on how your child’s teacher or other members of their support network might be able to help.
Keeping connected with teachers and school staff especially, both to share goals and expectations and to get updates about how things are going, can be a big difference maker when it comes to keeping an eye on progress, identifying areas of frustration, and considering options for moving forward.
While we at AGU believe that the most important line of communication is between you and your child, a teacher or staff member can often add helpful context to a discussion or adjust their plans to account for different challenges or needs.
The more it becomes routine to have these types of conversations, the less high stakes it will feel to bring up potentially challenging topics or thorny issues. After all, the whole support network is a team and it only makes sense to take time to ensure we are all working toward the same goal!
7. Share regular reminders that you are here to help!
Every child’s needs are unique, and children will decide whether or not to reach out for help/support around a particular issue based on their own unique circumstances. While we want to encourage the students we are supporting to pursue their own independence when they feel comfortable doing so, we also want them to feel comfortable coming to us when there is a challenge they need help with!
While we cannot control when the person we are supporting may feel ready to share, we can do our best to make it clear that we are always here to help both by offering regular reminders and by taking it seriously when help is solicited even in cases where we are not 100% sure why our help is needed.
Students who feel confident they will get help when they need it can have more confidence in pursuing their own goals and solving their own problems knowing that they have that anchor point if they ever feel adrift.
Making sure your child feels supported throughout their academic journey can be a tricky process that goes beyond simple logistics and hones in much more on individual comfort levels, preparedness, and open communication.
But those steps are just as important as any logistical one precisely because all of this preparation is to help the student succeed, and all the logistical preparation in the world only means so much if the student does not feel as prepared or supported as they could be.
Likewise, a strong sense of teamwork, communication, and support can go a long way toward addressing whatever challenges may come with the school year and to overcome them even when conditions are not perfect.
If you are interested in more tips regarding supporting your child during the school year or you wish to share your own experience, we’d love to hear from you! Just drop us a line at email@example.com and let us know what you’re thinking.