Back To School!

Back To School!

Is it back-to-school time already? Where did the summer go! We have some tips and recommendations for getting your family and kids ready for the new school year.

Children in general, but especially those with special needs, often have trouble with transitions. It stems from difficulty in shifting attention from one activity to the next and thus, tend to have a greater need for predictability. As any parent of a child on the spectrum knows, predictability is crucial because it reduces anxiety. These next few days are the perfect time to begin preparing your child for the back-to-school routine. By using this time to slowly transition into the routine, it will help avoid the meltdowns and behavior issues that can occur when a child is not adequately prepared for a new situation. Here are some tips:

• If your child has trouble waking up in the morning, start putting them to bed earlier, using 15-minute increments to get the time earlier each night. Once your child is used to waking up at the expected hour, waking up on the big day will be much easier.
• Next, you need to establish a consistent morning routine. Using a visual schedule is a great way to demonstrate the sequence of events that make up this routine. You can prepare the schedule together with your child, using pictures or drawings of familiar activities such as using the toilet, brushing teeth, getting dressed and eating breakfast. The visual schedule will give your child a sense of control and help understand which activity follows which.
• To help avoid power struggles, it is helpful to have a desired activity follow an undesired activity. For example, if TV is part of your morning routine, make sure that more difficult tasks (like getting dressed) come first and TV time can serve as a reward.
• Give your child a 5 or 10-minute warning before they are expected to move onto the next activity. Never whisk them away from a preferred activity and demand that they get in the car when it is time to leave. When giving warnings, make your instructions as clear as possible by breaking them down into simple steps. Sometimes a seemingly simple statement such as “we’re leaving in 5 minutes” can be too difficult for a child to understand. Instead you can say “in 5 minutes we have to walk out the door and get into the car”.
• If power struggles over food or clothing are an issue, be sure to offer choices, as in “you can have cereal or oatmeal”. You can even have your child choose their clothes the night before. Choice-making gives a sense of control and reduces power struggles.
• Needless to say, choose your battles! For example, you could give up on combing their hair to perfection, and focus on getting dressed and leaving on time.

Once you have established your routine, it’s important to stick to it consistently! Having a predictable and consistent daily schedule builds confidence in a child, decreases anxiety, and encourages cooperation. Preparation and consistency are keys to success in back-to-school. Remember, it is not about “begging” or “forcing”; or “hoping” your child will be OK. It is about manipulating environmental variables (routines, visual schedules, rewarding positive behaviors, providing choices instead of directives, etc.) to prevent meltdowns and facilitate desired behaviors, such as compliance. You can be in control, and you should.

Daniel Adatto
Board Certified Behavior Analyst

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