Helping a child with Autism Spectrum Disorder through school

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Given the many challenges that are experienced by children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (also known as ASD), if you have a child with this diagnosis, you might be wondering how to tackle school. 

So how can you best prepare them for and support them through school?

Speak to your therapist:

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This should be your first point of call. Particularly for those who do not currently have a diagnosis for their child and are just wondering if they might be experiencing ASD, it is extremely important that you have them assessed and a correct diagnosis can be given. Once your therapist knows exactly what your child is experiencing, they can give guidance to the school on how best to support them. 

Telling your child and their teacher’s about the diagnosis:

It is important that your child has an understanding of what is going on for them. It may be better to tell them right away, or you may find it more suitable to wait until they get a little older and have a conversation then. Either way, this can be an important process in helping them to be prepared for some of the unique challenges ASD can pose to their school experience. 

This site: http://www.autismawareness.com.au/diagnosis/telling-people-about-a-diagnosis/ has some helpful information on talking to your children about their diagnosis. 

It is also important that the school and your child’s teachers are aware of your child’s diagnosis. Although you may be worried about “labelling” them, it can be far more problematic if the school are not aware. This is because without an understanding of the diagnosis, the teacher’s may feel that your child is just poorly mannered or misbehaving and might dismiss them rather than providing them the guidance they need. They are also not able to provide the valuable specialised support for children with ASD that can help your child succeed at school without being aware of their diagnosis. 

Preparing your child for school:

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  1. Help your child get used to the school and the things they are likely to do there. This can be done through pointing the school out when you drive past, walking past the school, visiting the school, buying their school supplies and getting them used to using them or even getting into a school-like regime at home. 
  2. Make sure you are organised. This means having everything ready for school, knowing about some of the teachers and what class your child will be in. Try and connect with the teachers before the school year starts if you can or at least meet with the principle. It can be helpful if there is a familiar face there for your child. 
  3. Have your therapist connect with the school and give guidance on the level of support required. You can also provide some tips for the teacher yourself such as telling them some of your child’s interests, what upsets them and what seems to calm them. Some helpful hints can be seen at: http://raisingchildren.net.au/articles/autism_spectrum_disorder_starting_school.html
  4. Once they start school, give them a chance to settle when they get home each day. Also try not to pry, if they offer information about their school day ask questions and show interest but don’t interrogate them if they don’t seem to want to talk. 

What about high school?

Similar to primary school, for high school, you want to introduce your child to the school slowly over time. You can do this in the following ways:

  1. Find out exactly how high school will be different from primary school. This will be different for every school and could require some research on your part. 
  2. Talk your child through the differences to let them know what to expect. Reassure them that you will help them prepare for these changes. 
  3. Visit the school and try to look into some extracurricular activities; finding something that interests your child could help them transition easier. 
  4. Take photos of the school and help them do up a map.
  5. Try and work out if they will have any friends transitioning to the same school and set up a buddy they can go to if needed. 
  6. Talk to the school about what support services they can provide and give examples of what was provided at your child’s primary school if appropriate. 
  7. Above all, keep in mind that this will be a challenging time for your child so they may show some challenging behaviours. Try and have patience with this and accept that it will take them some time to settle in and this behaviour is simply them trying to adjust. 

For further information on ASD and adjusting to school, please see the links below. 

Resources:

 http://raisingchildren.net.au/articles/autism_spectrum_disorder_starting_school.html

http://raisingchildren.net.au/articles/autism_spectrum_disorder_transitions_teenagers.html

http://www.autism.org.uk/about/diagnosis/children/recently-diagnosed.aspx

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