Tips for helping your child enjoy going to school
Starting school for the first time or after a break can be a very difficult transition for a child with autism. The added emotional distress can result in an outright refusal or repeated attempts to employ avoidance tactics. Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) can have exacerbated school-related anxieties but parents can identify these triggers and help reduce them with some of the following tips to work on.
Is your child school intolerant?
Refusing to go to school can be demonstrated in many ways. It can be a struggle every day with prepping for the next day and timing on when and how to get ready for school, or, if you get your child to school, he or she may ask to leave early because of anxiety or illnesses. These can be legitimate physical reactions from anxiety that require frequent sick days, which can put your child into a cycle of missed school that can be hard to overcome.
Consciously or not, the added anxiety of dealing with not only the academic rigors but the work it entails to actually be a student can lead to many forms of school avoidance.
School avoidance is allowing a child to escape that stress and anxiety for various reasons. But that short-term fix will have long term consequences.
How parents can help a child participate in classrooms
- Recognize avoidance triggers to limit days missed. The overload of keeping on pace after missing school can snowball quickly, which will likely cause your child more anxiety and result in more avoidance. So it is important to be aware of your child's avoidance triggers, reactions, and excuses as early as possible. At the first signs, it is important to help your child identify what is at the root of the avoidance tactics so that you can address them head-on.
- Be understanding, but proactive about possible cause of avoidance. A parent's instinct is to protect your child from stress caused by school, but missing too much will only intensify the problems that trigger the avoidance in the first place. A calm conversation about possible triggers will be difficult to hear, but important to ask so that a solution can be put in place. Ask if your child is feeling bullied, or struggling socially or academically. Perhaps your child is going through separation anxiety from you or the comforts of home. For whatever reason, it is legitimate to them and can only be addressed if known.
- Be careful to not allow your home to be the reason to avoid school. If there is a day when your child has to stay home, make it more like school than home. For example, a "sick day" doesn't mean a "screen day." Limit screentime while at home, increase reading time and tutoring time to help your child with the work he or she will be missing. Teachers can forward work assignments when asked so your child will not fall far behind classroom objectives of that day.
- Be regularly in touch with school staff. Teachers and guidance counselors or special needs instructors should be made aware of your child's signs and triggers that could lead to avoidance. But equally important, remind them and your child often of his or her strengths and special skills that can be a benefit that serves them well when facing the challenges of the day.
- Understand how your child learns. It is different from the neurotypical student's way of processing verbal and social instructions. Visual learning is where an individual with autism excels. Help your child and the teachers who want the best for your child build on that strength by providing instructions in more visual ways.
- Request an aide if necessary for your child. In some or all classes that your child's needs are not met, your child can slip through the cracks as one-on-one learning is often impossible in a large classroom. This can be a source of avoidance because they may feel invisible in the classroom already. School districts can provide, through individualized education plans requested by parents, a paraprofessional to be an aide that helps keep your child attentive and on-task in the classroom.
- Request a behavior plan as well as an academic plan. If these are in place, your child's teacher and any substitutes will know to look for triggers your child may be becoming overwhelmed because of sensory overload in the classroom or for whatever reason. At those times, they may need and be granted a break to prevent meltdowns when anxiety overwhelms them. Schools can have a designated area for students on the spectrum to decompress for an agreed-upon time before rejoining the class.
To learn more about how Centria Autism can help you and your family navigate a diagnosis and insurance verification, or treatment of ABA Therapy, please contact our team of specialists at (855) 423-4629.