For parents of neurodiverse learners, the “back to school” season usually brings with it one consistent emotion: feeling overwhelmed. Any kind of abrupt change, in general, can be difficult for learners with autism, attention deficit disorders, oppositional defiant disorder, or other neurodiverse diagnoses. Tack on navigating a post-pandemic world, and we are all facing challenges that are unprecedented, but not insurmountable.
Back to School Tips for Neurodiverse Students
If you find yourself feeling overwhelmed, here are some strategies to help make the back-to-school season feel more manageable.
1. Use social stories
Social stories can prepare your child for what they will experience when the school year begins. To make a social story, pick out a situation and describe it in short, narrative, first-person descriptions. You can make this fun! Visual aids, like photographs or illustrations, make your social story personal to your child’s experience. Lay out photos for your child depicting things like getting on the van, eating lunch with friends, and sitting in the classroom. Put these on a sheet of paper or in a digital album and talk about school using these visual reminders of what school is like. Ask your child’s teacher or social worker for help designing social stories special for your child that you can use at home! Establishing a positive, collaborative relationship with your child’s teacher is one of the best ways to support your learner.
3. Learn and teach the school’s COVID protocols
Explaining what to expect regarding your school’s specific COVID protection policies is essential. Ask the school to explain to you:
- Any hand-washing rules they may have
- If a mask is necessary
- What social-distancing policies may be in place
- Any other protocols that may be new
Practicing these procedures beforehand can be helpful so these practices feel comfortable to your child. It will also help changes in day-to-day routines from summertime to school time feel less overwhelming.
4. Take care of yourself as a parent
This might go without saying, but parenting and running on empty is difficult. As a parent, take note of your emotional health and make the time to recharge. How do you de-stress as a parent of a neurodiverse learner? Are you taking one hour each day to engage in something stress-reducing for only you? Are you learning to lean on the community around you? iCan Dream Center is committed to partnering with parents to ensure that their needs are met. This is as critical to us as meeting your child’s needs as a learner. Be sure to attend all parent support meetings and to contact us if you need additional support.
5. It will be okay.
Helping your neurodiverse child dive back into the school setting does not have to be daunting. It can be exciting to anticipate the progress your child will make this school year! Take the time to plan, help them feel prepared, and embrace the change. Even though the back-to-school season might mean feeling overwhelmed, it also means growth and progress for your child. What could be more exciting?