As the return to the new school year gets closer for many of us, or has already started for some, it can be a time of great anxiety and stress for all children and young people, especially children and young people with additional needs.
It can be a challenging and difficult time for parents and carers too, so here’s 10 ‘Top Tips’, as well as some handy web links, that will equip us to help our children return to school well.
Ahead of the first day
- Take anxiety and worries seriously. It’s easy to put their concerns off, or to convince ourselves that ‘they will be fine’, but the reality is that we could just be building up trouble for the first day if we put off taking their anxiety and worries seriously. By engaging with them about this early, it gives us more time to help and support them, and more time for them to process the support that we are providing for them.
- Create a ‘social story’ about the return to school. Social stories can use images, symbols, as well as text, to help communicate new or complex things to children. A social story that tells them about their new class or school, the staff they will meet, what they will be doing, all can help to prepare them for the first day. This is an example of a social story that can help, provided by Reachout ASC (see links later for more info.)
- Create a visual timetable for the first day, showing each stage of the day (you’ll need to get info from school for this). A visual timetable helps children to know what is happening now, next and later, what they need to do, and helps them to remain in control of what they are doing. ( An example of a visual timetable resource from Twinkl is provided below, and you can also find more in the resources area of the Reachout ASC website)
- Arrange to visit school ahead of the big day if possible, while it is quiet, to walk through the corridors, see the classroom, maybe meet the teacher/TA etc. Some schools have training days ahead of school opening and it may be possible to arrange a short visit during these days. It’s well worth asking.
On the first day
- Parents/carers, try to suppress your own anxiety! It’s hard, but children are very perceptive and can pick up when we’re stressed, making them even more anxious. In their minds, if we’re anxious, it must be really bad!
- Get into a routine from day one. Use visual cues e.g. laying out their uniform. Have that visual timetable ready.
- If possible, have them go in on the first day with a friend, even if it’s just from the school gate. Is there something they can take with them that will help them to regulate their anxiety e.g. a fidget toy? (not something precious that might get lost!)
- They are likely to be exhausted when you pick them up. Don’t bombard them with questions the moment you see them, or expect too much straight away. Give them some down time first, maybe with a drink and a snack. Later, ask them what they enjoyed most about school today.
- Let them do something they choose or want to do to finish the day positively. They have had other people (including us) telling them what to do all day, letting them choose what to do, or what we can have for our meal for example, gives them some control back over their day.
- Try to get them to bed early. They will be mentally and emotionally exhausted after the first day and so an early night will be helpful, but it will also pay off the next morning when they are fresher and more awake for day two!
There’s a free download on the Twinkl website that helps explain returning to school.
There are also free resources about returning to school on the Widgit website.
There’s a free downloadable pack about going back to school on the Makaton website too.
Lynn McCann at ReachoutASC has provided a wealth of free downloadable resources.
A wide range of useful free downloadable resources can be found on the Do-IT> website, under their rather appropriate heading of ‘Survive, Revive and Thrive.
Manchester University Foundation Trust
Here’s a great resource written in collaboration between Manchester University Foundation Trust, Manchester Local Care Foundation and One Education, providing a really helpful guide for parents about many aspects of the return to school, along with some positive and useful resources.
Autism little Learners
Just love this site, so full of useful stuff and there are some great Social Stories.
As with all Social Stories, these should be adapted or used as a starting point to create a specific version for each child. More information about how to create Social Stories can be found on Lynn McCann’s Reachout ASC site.
Use these website resources help you to stay informed and able to inform and support your children as they return to school.
I hope these ‘Top Tips’ and website links are helpful for you as you navigate a path through the return to school with your child.
If you have more tips or links to share with other parents/carers, why not leave them in a comment below!
Mark Arnold, Director of Additional Needs Ministry at Urban Saints. Arnold blogs at The Additional Needs Blogfather. This article was re-published with permission.