I’m standing at the end of the driveway, waiting with my five-year-old daughter, Ava, for her first bus ride to school.
“Are you coming Mommy?” she asks. Her eyes widen as I shake my head and force a smile.
“No love, not this morning”
She turns to my husband.
“Daddy, are you coming?”
As he says “no,” I point to the bus just down the block. “Look, Rose is getting on now. You’ll be next and you you can sit right next to her.”
A long, loud “pshhhh” lets out as the bus comes to a stop in front of us. Ava covers her ears at the noise and I kick myself for forgetting to warn her about the sound that was coming.
As the bus pulls away, I’m filled with all of the emotions that normally come with sending your child off to kindergarten for the first time, along with so many others that come with parenting a child on the autism spectrum:
Will she remember who her teacher is?
Will she be too busy taking in every noise, color and movement around her to listen for instructions?
Will she be able to sit for morning meeting or will she wander the room memorizing every inch of it while singing to herself?
We were lucky enough to have a great team of therapists work with Ava in her preschool setting, who helped us to formulate plans and give us strategies for setting our kindergartner up for success. Kari Schaeffer, a Special Education Itinerant Teacher (SEIT) of Capital District Beginnings in Albany, NY, was instrumental in preparing Ava for kindergarten and helping my husband and I implement these strategies in our home to support Ava during transitions and in the classroom.
If you and your family are experiencing the anxiety that comes with the transition to school and making the first couple of months (and beyond) go smoothly, Schaeffer has a few recommendations to help ease your concerns.
Don’t be afraid to reach out to your child’s teacher to learn how your child is doing in the classroom. Let your child’s teacher know what strategies and tactics have worked for you and/or previous teachers.
Create a positive feeling in your home about school
Our children are like sponges, picking up on everything around them (even when they don’t seem to be!) Your positive attitude about this brand new experience can help your child feel more safe and secure about it, too. Make sure school events are a priority. Plan to go to parent night. Meet the teacher and familiarize yourself with the room that your child spend most of their days in. This will give you a frame of reference to use when your child tells you about their time in school.
Create before and after school routines
These can set clear expectations for home and will help your child learn to understand and follow schedules while in the classroom. Depending on your child these could be picture examples or written out in a list.
We created two signs in our home — one for Ava’s morning routine, which lists everything that needs to happen before she gets on the bus, and one for after school, listing the order of events leading to bedtime. In our house, we’ve added the time when each item will happen and when she’ll move on to what’s next.
Write a lunch box note
A note can provide your child with a sense of calm in the middle of a crazy day. Seeing something from mom or dad can help to relieve tensions your child may have. Prepare yourself: if your child is anything like mine, you’ll need to do this until the day they graduate!
The first few weeks of school are exhausting, so be sure to build in some downtime after school. Your child is expected to sit, while trying not to move or talk, all day and is likely to be experiencing sensory overload. This is a big change for everyone in the family, so don’t be surprised if your evenings together are more of a challenge for a few weeks.
The transition into kindergarten is no small feat, remember adjusting to a new routine takes time. As the year continues you’ll have a team around your child, setting them up for success.
Audrey Ruffinen is a public information specialist for Capital Region BOCES. She lives in Niskayuna with her husband and daughter, who is a kindergartener on the spectrum. They love to read, jump on trampolines, swim, play on the playground, ski in the winter and go on lots of adventures!