Provide support to neurodiverse and neurotypical children on their return to school


The new school year has started in the United States. A new year and a new school year bring many changes, unfamiliar routines and new people. Parents are understandably concerned about their children making these transitions.

To complicate matters, over the past two years, children’s education has largely been in the form of video conferencing instead of class time, emails instead of group lessons, and frustration – for both the children and the parents – at the to learn. In addition, reading scores have dropped.

A recent HP survey of 1,000 parents of children under the age of 18, examining the stressors parents will face this school year. The research, Back to Basics: Parents Looking for Traditional Classroom Tools to Make Up for Lost Learning Timeshows that parents are facing unprecedented pressure to ensure their children get the most out of this school year.

Children may take some time to get used to these changes, especially for sensitive school-age children, children with developmental delays, or neurodiverse children. Therefore, they may need additional time and support to adjust. Below, we talk to several experts about how best to provide this support, whether your child is neurotypical or neurodiverse.

The Challenges All Children Face

“The only common thread I see that children share, regardless of the challenges they face, is that they have parents, guardians and other adults in their lives who want to do the best they can for them,” said Bridgitt Haarsgaard, CEO and founder of The GAARD ​​Group. “Kids look to these adults to set the tone. When you’re stressed, your child’s stress level will rise. If you worry chronically, the child will worry. One of the biggest challenges in starting a new business So the school year is to keep yourself stable.”

As children and adolescents return to school, they face escalating mental health problems. For example, clinical anxiety and depression among young people have doubled during the pandemic.

“Another problem that parents face when children go back to school is the change in routine and the change in structure,” Haarsgaard added. “Returning to school is a great time to learn adaptability. First, set up one “new normal” routine at a time. For example, start by setting school bedtimes so that children align their biological clocks and circadian rhythms with their new routine. Once bedtimes established, enter the rule for screen time and device activity, then move on to the next habit, congratulate them for sticking to their commitment to make these small changes and how you know it will serve them well in school and in life.

Support for neurodiverse children

“It can be especially tough for children with autism and their parents. Change and uncertainty can be difficult for autistic individuals,” said Arianna Esposito, Vice President, Services and Supports, Lifespan Programs at Autism Speaks. “So the back to school season can present a distinct set of challenges; Summer routines often differ from school routines, and a new school year often means new courses, teachers, and classmates.”

Research has shown the effectiveness of caregiver-mediated interventions in promoting the developmental skills of children with autism and other developmental disabilities. To that end, Autism Speaks recently launched two programs designed to give caregivers the tools to improve the skills of children with autism so they can better adapt to changes in their environment and routine. Similarly, 91% of participants in Family ECHO: Autisma virtual learning program created as part of Autism Speaks Autism Care Network, report that the program has improved their knowledge and ability to care for children with developmental disabilities, making a difference in their day-to-day skills and overall development.

“In light of national surveys showing that nearly 50% of adults with autism in their early 20s have never had a paid job,” Esposito said. “We’ve also prioritized the needs of teens across the spectrum by providing tools that can guide them through adult life milestones, from finding housing to identifying a career path and securing employment.”

Ways Parents Can Offer Support

There is a lot of change to prepare for, and the team at Springtide Child Development has tips for parents that can help make this transition a little smoother for both the children and the parents.

“Going back to school can be challenging for children with autism spectrum disorder for recognizable reasons,” says Dr. Michael J. Cameron, Springtide’s Chief Clinical Officer. “In principle, the start of the school year means a transition. And since every transition involves leaving one routine and entering another, the transition itself can be unsettling and unsettling.” dr. Cameron recommends the following:

1. Prepare your child. Preparation can be achieved by exposing a child to the new circumstances as much as possible under non-emotional circumstances (ie before the child is expected to be engaged). This may take the form of a) driving around the school and playground, b) walking around the school if permission can be obtained, and c) viewing materials (e.g. video of the school) and telling stories about the new school ( e.g. narrative instruction).

2. Prepare the teachers. Communication with educators is essential. Something as simple as creating a quick reference guide that describes the circumstances that make a child happy and engaged, and those that cause disruption and stress, can increase the chances of success for the educators, the child, and the family.

3. Bring the child into new circumstances. Sometimes partial participation can be the best direction. In other words, give a child the opportunity to “taste” the new circumstances and put them into a new routine by initially allowing partial participation. The child’s schedule can be adjusted gradually as he experiences success.

4. Read books together. Check out books where the main character enters their first day of school to tell them what to expect and how others in their situation might feel. Some of Springtide’s favorites are:

  • First day jitters by Julie Danneberg
  • Clifford goes to kindergarten by Norman Bridwell
  • Countdown to Kindergarten by Alison McGhee
  • Kindergarten, here I come! by DJ Steinberg
  • The kissing hand by Audrey Penn

“Parents can also help their autistic child in the classroom by providing them with tools and encouraging positive behavior at home,” Esposito added. “The goal is to have kids translate those skills from home into other environments, such as school and hopefully, in some cases, the workplace.”

Preparing neurodiverse children for the future

To support parents and teens navigating the transition to adulthood in their final years of school, Autism Speaks families has a Transition Tool Kit, which provides young adults with guidance on everything from self-help skills and legal issues to housing and employment, and a Toolkit with job search recommendations, financing options, staffing agencies and other helpful tools for finding, getting and keeping a job with specific action steps.

“We also continue to work with employers, such as The Georgia Nutrition School Association, as part of the Workplace Inclusion Now (WIN) program,” Esposito says. “The goal is to encourage the adoption of inclusive hiring practices and procedures and hiring and onboarding processes that equip people with autism with the resources and skills needed for leadership opportunities.”