Getting Ready For Back To School
Can you believe it? We’re already moving through the summer, and school will be starting again before we know it. It’s not too soon to “get ready” to go back to the school routine….old or new?
For the past thirteen years, I have been studying social skills and “social thinking” (ref. www.socialthinking.com , Michelle G. Winner). If you haven’t heard of this and are having challenges with your child when they are around others, find out more by accessing this site. Social thinking is the key for all of us in adapting to and successfully functioning in whatever environment we are in.
Social thinking and using appropriate social skills can be difficult for many children…and adults. I have recently become aware, by studying with staff from the H.A.N.D.L.E. Institute (www.handle.org), that the sensory system is at the core of being social. Judith Bluestone, author of The Fabric of Autism, herself autistic, explained that though she was cognitively aware that she could not function socially, her sensory processing challenges would not allow her to “be social.” As soon as she was able to manage these systems, she was then able to think about what others were thinking and could interact with them appropriately.
If a person cannot tolerate the sight, smell or feel of being around others, they may find being social nearly impossible. If they are not aware of where their body is in space, are unable to look directly at others due to visual processing issues, find sound and unexpected touch fearful, anxiety may prevail, and they will find it difficult to be social. Yes, we can teach children the “tricks” of being social. We can teach what to say, how to say it, and even when to say it, but this will not suffice if the sensory systems are not prepared to accept the input and read the cues from the environment!
A perfect example of this occurred to me while I was working with one of my students. As I began talking to him, he told me to “stop talking”. I kept talking for a few moments, but when he asked me again, I realized that my verbal input, perhaps my vocal tone, or maybe even just the sound of my voice was overwhelming to him. I stopped talking. In fact, I didn’t speak for the entire hour. This child did not once ask me to talk. His demeanor changed, and his attitude, previously resistant to direction, changed as well. He became willing to interact socially through gesture and written messages, and he was willing to follow nonverbal directions. This was actually one of the best sessions to date!
So, how do you prepare your child to go back to school? My suggestion is that you watch your child closely. Observe their sensory challenges and be sensitive to them. Make sure that in their environment, the teacher and other students are aware of what makes them feel uneasy, over stimulated, unaccepted or left out. Use social stories, cartoon conversations (www.graycenter.org) and sensory input (www.out-of-sync-child.com) to calm and integrate the sensory systems so that your child can understand what is going to happen. Some children need to know how it will look, smell, sound, and possibly feel. If there is going to be a new teacher, school, or classroom, visiting a few times before the school year begins to meet the teacher, see the environment, and get used to the “feel” of the place is an excellent idea. Take walks down the halls, meet the office personnel, walk through and sit in the cafeteria. All of this may “take the edge” off of the new experience.
Sometimes, just talking about a new experience may be sufficient, but for many children, visual input is also important. (www.usevisualstrategies.com). Take pictures of the new teacher, the classroom, the school, the hallways, etc. Make stories about going to school. Make a book about the school day. Begin creating schedules (www.do-n-slide.com). All of these steps will help to ease anxiety, the greatest problem for a new year.
If you are returning to a previously familiar environment, focus on the new aspects of this particular year. Remind your child that there will possibly be a new time for lunch, new teachers, students or other “unexpected” surprises. Teach your child to be on the lookout for things that are the same (comforting) and things that are different (possibly anxiety producing).
Listen to what your child is saying or focusing on. Reflect what you hear him say. DO NOT tell him there is “nothing to worry about.” That may be your perspective, but in their perception, something may be very troublesome. While providing answers about what will happen is helpful, it will be even more important to be a good listener and sounding board. For example, if your child asks “What will my new teacher be like?” instead of saying, “I’m sure she will be very nice!” you might reflect on your child’s thought by saying, “You are wondering what she’ll be like.” By saying this, you are then opening the door for further questions and wonderings about the new teacher. The fact remains, this is an unknown. You don’t know. Your child doesn’t know. That’s okay. Keeping the doors of communication open is the important part! (www.raisingsmallsouls.com). Your excitement and reassurance will serve to “set the stage” for the new year. All the while, remember that the way you process the world and the way your child processes the world may not be the same. Respect their point of view, and work to help them to figure out how to adapt to the current situation.
May your new school year be the best one yet!
Here are a few resources and books to add to your summer/fall reading list:
- Bluestone, Judith, The Fabric of Autism
- Buron, Carrie Dunn, When My Worries Get Too Big, A Relaxation Book for Children Who Live With Anxiety
- Faber, Mazlish, How to Talk so Your Kids Will Listen and Listen so Your Kids Will Talk
- Gallo, Kim, Do-N-Slide, Visual schedule boards created by moms!
- Hodgdon, Linda, Visual Strategies for Improving Communication
- Myles, Brenda Smith, Adreon, Diane, Gitlitz, Dena, Simple Strategies That Work
- Myles, Brenda Smith, The Hidden Curriculum
- Kranowitz, Carol, The Out of Sync Child,
- Winner, Michelle G., Thinking About You, Thinking About Me
Feel free to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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