Starting “Big School” is a huge milestone for any child, and their parents! For kids who are Autistic, anxious or otherwise Neurodivergent it can be a transition fraught with big emotions.
The key to a successful transition lies in preparation and removing as many unknowns as possible – for your child, and the school. The following article will outline a few strategies in how to do this and set your child up for success.
- Communicate openly with the school about your child, their strengths, challenges, what supports are in place and what works best for them.
- Familiarise your child with the school. Walk past it, comment on the uniform the children are wearing, the different games they’re playing in the playground, where the toilets are and where bags are hanging outside classrooms.
- Buy a school uniform as early as practicable so that your child can try it on, this will also give you the opportunity to identify any possible sensory challenges from fabrics. If your child is sensitive to fabrics, try purchasing second hand from the clothing pool or discuss accommodations with the school such as wearing the sports uniform or different clothes with school colours. Adjustments to uniforms should be considered a “reasonable accommodation” under your child’s Individual Education Plan (IEP).
- Create a Social Story for your child about starting school, where possible include photos of their school, classroom and teacher, where they will eat and play.
- Write a “Getting to Know Me” document from your child’s perspective (and with their input) to introduce them to their prospective teacher. Include details such as their interests and strengths, keep it positive!
- If your child benefits from knowing when upcoming changes are occurring, create a calendar or diary for December and January with important dates marked, like Christmas, family holidays, last day of preschool/daycare and their first day of school. This gives your child a concrete tool to refer to.
- If standard Kindergarten orientation days do not go ahead in Term 4, discuss with the school what accommodations and exceptions they can make for your child and whether visits could still be arranged privately.
Above all, it is important to approach significant changes like this with understanding, empathy and connection. Acknowledge your child’s fears and worries so that they feel heard and validated in their experience.
Guest Author: Julia Hay, a Pediatric Occupational Therapist, offers specialist paediatric OT services for children aged 0-18 for children with sensory processing differences, Autism, ADHD, ODD, Anxiety and complex needs. Julia’s Place was started in 2016 by Julia Hay. After 5 years working in Sydney’s Inner West, Julia saw the opportunity to provide specific services in the North West and North Shore of Sydney too.
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