Ask A Speechie – How do I help my child with autism spectrum disorder transition into primary school?

February 22, 2019
Ask A Speechie – How do I help my child with autism spectrum disorder transition into primary school?

This month’s Ask A Speechie question is answered by Speech Pathologist Lisa Pellegrini

Question: How do I help my child with autism spectrum disorder transition into primary school?

The milestone of beginning primary school can often be a time filled with anxiety, uncertainty and excitement for any child and parent! If your child has autism spectrum disorder (ASD), you might have more concerns about your child transitioning into a new educational environment.

The fundamental message I always tell my families is preparation is key! Helping your child begin to understand their new routine and the activities they will soon undertake will go a long way to ensure they begin school successfully. Careful preparation will help your child understand what will be expected of them in the home and school environment. This will hopefully reduce any uncertainties and possible anxiety that your child may be experiencing.  Below are some ideas to help parents and their children achieve a smooth transition to primary school:

  • Prior to commencing school, help your child build familiarity with their new school by driving past it or looking at pictures of it. Even better, arrange to visit the school with your child during a quiet period and visit the key areas they will be using such as their classroom, toilets, library etc.  If you plan on walking your child to school, practice this before they commence school to help reduce any anxiety they may be having. Also try and arrange for your child to meet their teacher before commencing school, if possible.
  • Familiarise your child with their uniform and school bag. Practice routines such as packing their school bag, putting on their school shoes, and eating a packed lunch from their lunch box. Building this familiarity will help strengthen their confidence and understanding  of these new routines.
  • Talk to your school prior to commencing and make a transition plan with key staff. As a parent, you know your child the best. Therefore, it is important that you work together with school staff to ensure they too understand your child’s strengths and needs. Discussions regarding possible funding and support will be important to establish with key staff. Once your child begins school, continue to have open communication with their teachers and key staff. Exchanging regular emails or using a communication book to build the link between home and school will ensure that any potential problems that may arise can be dealt with in a timely manner.
  • Use social stories to help your child understand what to expect and to consolidate their new routine. For more information about this evidence-based resource, explore Carol Gray’s website here.
  • Use visual timetables to help your child complete their morning routine. There are many steps between waking up and arriving at school. Routines such as teeth brushing and getting dressed may seem simple in isolation however these may need to be broken down into smaller steps of a morning.  Using a visual schedule can help build your child’s understanding and independence in their morning routine.

Starting school can be extremely tiring for children therefore ensure that you give your child extra space and time to process this new change. As eager as some parents may be, try not to bombard your child with too many questions about school when they return home. They may need some quiet time after returning home after school each day and some space to self-regulate. Observe and listen to what your child may be telling or showing you and ensure they come home to a secure environment.

If you would like further support or would like to know more about how Speech Pathologists can help with school transitions, please do not hesitate to call the team at Melbourne Child Development and arrange an appointment with one of our Speech Pathologists.