The end of the school year can be an exciting time for children, full of fun activities, perhaps a school picnic, a trip to the pool, class parties, and other fun things to do.
However, it can also be a time of stress and anxiety, especially for neurodiverse children. So we need to ensure we’re supporting our autistic child in mainstream schools. Here are a few tips to help our amazing kids cope with the end of the school year.
1. Communicate with your child’s class teacher
Talk to your child’s teacher, special education teacher or teacher’s assistant about their plans for the end of the year.
Find out what activities will take place and when, so you can prepare your child in advance.
Ask them for a copy of the schedule or plans so you can go through it with your child, so they know what is happening and what is coming up.
2. Speak with your child
Help your child identify any potential sources of stress or anxiety. Is there a particular activity they’re dreading? Are they worried about saying goodbye to their friends?
Once you know what’s causing them anxiety, you can help them develop coping strategies.
If you know precisely what is worrying them, then you can talk about the specifics and discuss each step involved. If it’s going on an excursion or going to the pool, then you could visit the pool ahead of time so they’re familiar with it. And they could practise getting ready at home - putting their bathers on and the dreaded getting your bathers off when you’re clammy and sticky from the pool. (Or is that just me that dreads getting changed back into my clothes).
3. Promote positivity and effective coping mechanisms for your child
Try to focus on the positives about the event or situation causing them stress. For example, if they’re going on an excursion, the positives could be:
- They get to ride on the bus
- No school work – that’s always a bonus in my household
- Have fun with their friends
- The fun things they’ll see along the way
- Some extra treats in their lunchbox
Also, encourage the things for your child that help keeps them grounded too, such as:
- Deep breathing exercises
Supporting your child to find positive and healthy ways to deal with their stress will make it easier for them to cope with stressful situations in the future.
4. Check in with your child regularly
Keeping communication channels open is extremely important and a great way to support your children.
Check-in with your child to see how they’re doing regularly, both emotionally, socially and academically. This will help you identify any potential problems early on and address them before they become too overwhelming.
If you can get the right primary school autism support, it will make the transition into high school a little bit easier.
5. Practise social skills
If your child or teenager isn’t comfortable or confident socially, practise some social skills with them. This could include:
- How to start a conversation
- How to ask for help
- How to deal with strong emotions
If you start doing this in early childhood, then it gets easier as they get older and progress through different learning environments and classes.
6. Changing routines for Autistic children and teenagers
We always recommend introducing changes slowly. So, preparing and getting your child or teenager ready for the end of the school year well ahead of time is a good idea.
You could use social stories, or a calendar is an excellent tool for seeing what is coming up and when.
Speak to your child’s teacher or the relevant staff member about having your child meet their new teacher and visit their new classroom for next year ahead of time. Some schools do a meet-the-teacher and classroom visit session, but not all do. So, do advocate for this if your school doesn’t already.
When it comes to daily routines at home, try and keep your routines the same as much as possible so they at least have some sense of normalcy in their lives.
7. Advocate for your child’s needs
In an ideal world, we wouldn’t need to do this, but the reality is that most schools don’t have enough staff to support students effectively, and the number of students neurodiversites is growing too. And add in a busy time of the year and our teachers and support staff are run off their feet in mainstream schools.
Sometimes, even best-laid plans go astray, and Learning Plans get forgotten, or aspects of Learning Plans slip teachers’ minds. I get it that they might have a class of 25-30 students, and a high percentage may have a Learning Plan of some type. But we need to look after the best interests of our children.
To do this successfully, support and encourage your child to stand up for themselves and be heard if they’re comfortable, confident and able to do so.
If that’s not the case with your child, you need to advocate for your them then. And sometimes, to do this successfully, we as parents need to be loud. Hopefully, not and a quick message or email will get your teacher back on track again. Or a meeting will need to be scheduled. But not all schools and teachers are receptive to the intricacies of our gorgeous special needs kids, and we sometimes need to get loud to be heard.
Communicate with your Learning Co-Ordinator or teacher about what works for your child when it comes to ending your school year on a positive and in relation to the new school year and starting off on a positive note.
8. Be patient and understanding
The end of the school year is a big transition for your Autistic child, so it’s important to be patient and understanding. At this time of year, it can sometimes be easier said than done for us parents and caregivers. But remember to take time out for yourself to fill your own cup. So, when your young person has some hard days or moments, your cup is full, and you can be patient and understanding and give them the support they need.
It doesn’t hurt to have a little chat with siblings or other family members that are prominent in your young person’s life and remind them of how this time of year affects your Autistic child or teenager.
Enjoy the end of your school year as best you can
The end of the school year doesn’t have to be stressful for neurodiverse families.. Communicating with your child’s teachers, helping your child identify potential sources of anxiety, and encouraging healthy coping mechanisms can help make this transition smooth.
Remember, what is smooth for one child and family might be different for another too. It’s about what works for your child and what makes them happy and sets them up for success in the new school year.