Back to School ScrabbleBy Taylor Levesque, MA, Assistant Program Manager, Child Services

The month of September closes out a summer of adventures, memories made with family and friends, and relaxation under the sun. September also rings in newfound routine, organization, and maybe much-needed peace and quiet without the kiddos. No matter if your child, teen, or family experiences September’s onset as positive or negative, one theme remains the same: transition. Transition can be tricky. Transition away from an unstructured, highly-preferred, and irregular summer to a structured, demanding, and (at times) unmotivating school experience can be even trickier. Looking for tips to support your child or teen’s successful transition into school this September? Look no further than your own home.

 Model your emotions.

    Just as people feel a broad range of emotions ending summer experiences (summer Camp programming at Aspire, anyone?), people can feel the same mix of emotions beginning new experiences. Children or teens may feel nervous, excited, sad, or uncertain, or any combination of these emotions at once; some may not feel any particular emotions at all. Support your child’s successful transition back to school this September by modeling language to identify and express the emotions they are feeling (“You know, I’m feeling a little uncertain right now—I’m excited for you to go back to school and see your friends, but I’m also a bit sad to have to say goodbye to our fun summer memories.”).

Preview, preview, preview.

September is often associated with newness and uncertainty. Combat your child or teen’s anxiety of “the unknown” with proactive, accurate preview; help them to visualize the bigger picture of what to expect this upcoming school year and support them to effectively prepare. New teacher? Ask for a photo and biography to read with your kindergartener. Different school? Take a visit to investigate the premises with your curious teen. First year eating lunch in the cafeteria? Collaboratively create a social story with your middle-schooler; don’t forget to outline what to expect in the lunch room (including that funky meatloaf smell) and ways your student can manage the unexpected (Ear plugs? Bathroom breaks? A trusted adult?)

Set (and practice) routine.

Coming from summer’s lazy days and relaxed attitudes, September brings a whirlwind of routine to unstructured time. Support your child or teen’s executive functioning success through the creation and practice of typical school routines beginning early on in the summertime. Struggling to catch the bus on-time? Pick a free summer Saturday, choose a preferred destination or activity (early morning hike or a trip to the zoo), and walk your child through the steps that need to be achieved to make the bus (your car) heading to the Aquarium. Homework getting lost in the school shuffle? Have your child decorate (drawings, comics, collage, paint) a personalized clipboard or folder to use when transporting documents between the school and home setting.

Arm your educators.

New teachers need time to get to know more about your child or teen. Kickstart their knowledge of your student proactively (about everything not covered by the IEP or 504 Plan) and collaborate early and often with school providers. What makes your child tick? Any strategies your teen may be too nervous to advocate for on the first day of high school? What topics can a teacher use to establish strong therapeutic rapport? Start a conversation, write a letter, or create a binder of resources (the shorter the better!). Better yet, involve your child in this process to put them in the driver’s seat of this early self-advocacy.

Communicate and collaborate.

More important than any other strategy discussed above: express yourself confidently. As the caregiver, older sibling, or trusted adult, you are the expert on your student. Your child or teen’s success transitioning into school this September depends on your support. Open clear lines of conversation with educational and support staff. Make yourself an easily-accessible team member. Ask questions (even those that seem silly). Tell stories about successes your child has found or struggles they’ve faced. If you have concerns, express them. If things are working, make it known. Be an active participant in creating effective and honest two-way communication and collaboration.

As with any unknown, big or small, transitioning successfully into school each September is no easy feat. Celebrate the successes. Embrace the challenges. Pack your backpack with your lucky pencil and bring an extra apple for the teacher.

School is back in session.

Looking for more information on how to make the most out of this upcoming school year? Please join Aspire families and staff members for the next installment of MGH Lurie Center for Autism’s Coffee Convo: How to Educate Your School taking place Wednesday, September 26 from 6:30 to 7:30am.

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