After such a long break from school, children are likely to fall into two camps. Those who can’t wait to dive back in, see their friends and resume and semblance of normality, and those who are anxious about doing so.
For children and young people with autism, that anxiety is likely to be compounded by the fear of change. For children who can find even small changes difficult we cannot underestimate the need to prepare and support them for the ways that school will be different and to reassure them about the ways in which school will be the same.
As teachers what can we do to help:
Sending a photograph or video of your classroom and how it looks now, will help to show children that although the layout has changed lots of things about your room have remained the same. The desks may be in different places, but they are still the same desks, their favourite books are still on the bookshelves and the displays are still on the walls.
Children respond well to knowing the reasons for things, and don’t always make the links themselves. Break things down and explain calmly why the changes are necessary. Tell them that you understand the changes are hard, but also talk about how some changes might be positive ones e.g. eating the lunch in the classroom rather than in the school hall.
Provide Safe Spaces
Many children have been out of school for a long time, so knowing that if they do feel overwhelmed there is somewhere they can go will help to reassure them that it will be ok to return. Sending photographs of these alongside the visuals of their classroom will help. This might be a tent in the classroom or another room that is available for them to go when needed. A graduated approach works best, with a break out space within the room often helping children to remain regulated enough to remain in class for longer.
Consider Sensory Breaks
After being at home for a long time, coming back to sit in classrooms all day will be hard even for us as adults. For children and young people who benefit from movement breaks this will be particularly challenge. Considering how to give sensory input to those who would benefit from it, is therefore essential. Whether that is access to fidgets, wobble cushions, therabands on chairs, walks down the corridor or time to run outside; getting the right sensory diet will not only impact positively on learning but will also reduce the likelihood of meltdowns once a child returns home.
Make Yourself Interesting…
…And I don’t just mean teach fabulous lessons. Discovering children’s special interests and taking time out – especially in the early days – to ask questions poor provide snippets of information about these, will go a long way to helping to build positive relationships. If children are struggling with a task that is set, adapting it to incorporate that special interest can make a make a big different to increasing its accessibility.
If a child is getting upset or having meltdowns at home or at school, tracking across both settings can help to discover a pattern. Perhaps disregulation always occurs in the evening after a P.E. lesson, or maybe there are meltdowns the morning before PPA time – communication between home and school and a system in place to track changes and ability to manage those changes is crucial. Only when we fully understand triggers can we do all we can to reduce them.
Communicate With Parents
Lastly, and most importantly remember communication with parents is absolutely key. They are the experts in their child. Spending time listening to parents, will help alleviate a lot of difficulties in the longer term. Things may seem ok in class, as children often mask in the early days, but if a parent is telling you they are struggling when they get home each day, then it is likely that further support is needed during the school day. Communication and working together openly is the best way to provide the best outcomes for the child or young person involved