By: Jennifer Twachtman-Bassett, MS, CCC-SLP

Children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) have a tough time adjusting to change – so they’ll need additional guidance and support to succeed in school during COVID-19.

Connecticut Children’s autism specialist Jennifer Twachtman-Bassett, MS, CCC-SLP shares tips.

Create a visual calendar for your child’s school schedule (especially for hybrid models).

Many schools are adopting a hybrid schedule with some time in the classroom and some remote learning. To make sure your child knows what to expect, create and post your child’s school schedule each week on a calendar. Label each type of learning using a different color (for example, green for the classroom, blue for remote class at home; red for online homework time), or use stickers to represent school or computer-based learning.

Talk about changes using simple language.

Explain changes to your child using simple, clear language. (Ask your child’s school for a kid-friendly list of what’s changing.) Tell your child exactly what they will need to do differently this year, from their perspective. For example, “You’ll need to wear your mask all the time, unless your teacher tells you it’s time for a break,” or “You won’t leave the classroom for lunch anymore. Instead, you’ll eat right at the same desk where you sit during class.”

Try to avoid extra words or explanation, unless your child asks for this. Our developmental pediatrician has more tips for talking to younger kids about changes at school.

Present information to your child both visually and verbally.

If your child can read, write down the new changes and rules. If your child cannot read, use pictures. Visual information allows your child to review the same information as many times as they need in the days leading up to school.

Encourage your child to communicate all of their feelings about changes.

Let them know that it’s okay to be frustrated or anxious. Use these conversations to work on your child’s ability to cope with change.

Involve your child in coming up with solutions that will help them adjust to the new rules.

Give your child choices as much as possible. For example, your child can choose the mask they wear or help to design a special new mask. They can decorate a home office for the time they’ll be learning at home.

Practice new skills at home.

These include handwashing, wearing a mask and social distancing. Here are 8 things to practice now for COVID-19 classroom safety.

Encourage your child to communicate any needs and difficulties with their teacher.

Talk about different ways they can approach their teacher with requests or concerns while at school, and encourage them to stay in touch from home via email.

Talk to your child’s teacher regularly about how each day has been going.

This is especially important at the beginning of the year. If your child seems to be struggling, their teaching team may be able to suggest specific areas to work on. Want to get a head start? Here are 4 questions to ask your child’s school before classes start.

Every day, ask your child how school went.

If there were difficulties in the classroom or during remote learning, talk to your child about what they can try tomorrow to make the day go better. Understand that there will be some challenges along the way. Your child is doing their best to navigate changes that are difficult for all of us.

Celebrate your child’s efforts.

Don’t forget to praise your child for working so hard to follow the new rules at school!

> For more helpful resources, check out our Back to School Kit


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