Are you one of those moms who LOVES back to school shopping?! I mean come on, what beats strolling down the aisles of fun colored writing utensils and office supplies? It was one of my favorite things to do as a child, and it’s fun again now that I’m a mom. But there’s always the other side of it…while the shopping part is fun, the weeks to come may not be as glamorous. So I’ve got some great ideas for you to help your kiddos reduce back to school anxiety.
What causes back to school anxiety?
If you never dealt with back to school anxiety, you are one of the lucky ones. But most children on the autism spectrum have plenty of reasons to feel anxious. Here’s a short list:
- Change in schedule
- New people
- Different classrooms
- Unusual smells, sounds, and other sensory disturbances
- Unwanted bus rides
- Social pressure
- Renewed academic pressure
- Lack of proper sensory input
- Long periods without the ability to retreat
Going back to school feels like a complete upheaval to kids who require structure and routine. Of course school offers that, but it is a sudden change from the summer months that can be quite painful.
Ways to ease back to school anxiety
This may sound like a daunting task, but there really are many ways to make the back to school transition less stressful for you and your children. Consistency is extremely important here.
Set up a regular weekly schedule
Having a consistent schedule is always a good place to start when trying to reduce anxiety. Autistic children thrive with order and routines. It helps them feel more secure and in control when they know what to expect. You can avoid many meltdowns by simply giving your child a way to know what’s coming next. When they get into their new routine, it will give them a sense of security, even though it is different from the summer months.
You don’t have to track what your family does every 15 minutes, but try to maintain a fairly regular schedule. Have a general list of things that happen before and after school, as well as on the weekends. Try to do the same things on the same days each week.
If your child does not read, making a simple visual schedule would be advisable. These are great for so many reasons, and there’s really no wrong way to do it…except to NOT make one. 😉
Use comfort items
Sending a small comfort item to school can help ease the anxiety during those first few weeks. They may not be able to carry their favorite stuffed animal or blanket with them to class, but you can send something small to hold them over.
A worry pet is a comfort item that doubles as a fidget toy! You can find them on Etsy or make your own worry pet for (or with!) your child. They are designed to be soothing and comforting.
You can also bring larger comfort items in the car for drop offs and pick ups, or have them waiting for you kiddo at the door when they get off the bus. This will give them something to look forward to when they get home, which can offer immediate comfort and relieve some of the tension from a long school day.
Set up a sensory room at home
Setting up a nice sensory room can be done for less than $100. If that isn’t in your budget, you can at least set up a small sensory space or calming corner somewhere at home. This will give your child a safe retreat, where they can calm down, release emotions, and receive soothing sensory input.
A lot of back to school anxiety is caused by the sense of obligation to fit into a social norm. When my boys went to the local public school for their special education programs, they would maintain their composure as much as possible throughout the day, and then completely fall apart before we would leave the school parking lot in the afternoons. Your kids feel safer being themselves at home. They are often terrified of what others may do if they don’t hold it all together at school. So having a retreat for them at home can help them release all of that pressure in a healthy way, instead of them blowing up on the rest of the family.
Schools don’t usually have enough time or resources to give kids the necessary sensory input during the day. My boys were supposed to be making regular trips to the sensory room throughout the day, as agreed to in their IEP’s. Neither of them ever saw that sensory room. The fact of the matter is that, even with the best of intentions, teachers are often overwhelmed and stretched too thin to try to meet every child’s needs. Making sure your child gets consistent calming sensory input at home will help them better regulate their emotions and meltdowns caused by sensory overload.
Incorporate special family and friend times
Summers are usually filled with friends and family, since there are no school days to worry about. Jumping back into classes forces them to be around a certain group of people (people that they aren’t choosing to be around), and they will be missing their summer crowd.
Do your best to keep in touch with any close friends and family that your child was with during the summer months. If they spent a lot of time with Grandma and Grandpa, try to schedule a grandparents outing at least once a month, or every other week if possible. Do the same for close friends. Keeping these people close will help reduce back to school anxiety as well, because your kids will feel some sense of social normalcy.
Find classroom friendly sensory toys
Check with the teachers and find out what types of fidget items they allow. There are plenty of classroom friendly fidgets and sensory toys out there! Things like desk anemones, chewable necklaces, kick bands, fidget pencil toppers, and weighted lap pads can help reduce anxiety and sensory overload during school hours, and they are typically acceptable in classroom settings. Fidgeting not only helps students focus better; it also offers gentle sensory input and calms nerves.
Side Note: You should also check out my monthly autism subscription box, which includes sensory toys, visual aids, speech therapy tools, and play dough/slime kits! Just sayin’! Click the highlighted text, or find the Spectrum Surprise tab at the top of this page to find out more. 🙂
Say goodbye to back to school anxiety
I hope these tips help make your kiddo’s back to school experience less stressful this year! Let me know if you have other ideas for easing them into this huge transition!