As students with AS and NLD of all ages return to school, there’s two challenges: making the transition from summer to the school routine, and setting up the year to maximize success. Transitions and novelty often are the source of anxiety, so many AS and NLD students are increasingly anxious as that first day back to school approaches. Anticipatory anxiety can be expressed as headaches, stomach aches, and specific fears of the year ahead: who’s in the classes, will there be bullying, what’s expected by teachers, having to take gym.
How can a parent help (or an older student prepare)?
Deal with anxiety:
- Recognize anxiety is a real feeling, but not an accurate prediction of what’s going to happen. Too often parents get caught up in the anxiety themselves.
- Meditation has been proven to turn off the “fight flight” response, and the breathing techniques are useful to use when there’s challenges or frustration. It’s a good time to start practicing daily. There’s apps for all ages.
- Exercise is another good way of dealing with anxiety. It doesn’t have to be a sport. Walking outside can be calming.
- AS and NLD students usually have ideas of what helps with anxiety but sometimes don’t initiate doing those things: reading, music, playing with pets.
- Use self talk – realistic self encouragement can be thought through ahead of time: “I can handle this,” “I know I can get help if I need it” are examples.
Anticipate the transition:
- Change sleep and waking schedules back to the school schedule, if you haven’t already.
- Think through the practical issues of the school day, from the timing of getting up and out to the system of organizing work. Writing out plans can be reassuring as a visual support.
- Work together to create a list so materials that will be needed that can be bought ahead of time. For younger students, picking out special supplies is a treat; for older students, it’s best to be ahead of the game that first day.
- Become familiar with the new daily routine, and do a run through if possible. Meet teachers or others who will be important ahead if you can.
- Sometimes students are very intimidated if the new year means new school buildings. Have a walk through; some even find it helpful to use or make a map showing where classrooms are located.
Setting the year up for success:
- Think about what worked (and didn’t) last year. Make a bullet list of what worked before, and if appropriate, share it with this year’s teachers.
- Set up supports that might be needed – line-up organizational support, tutoring, and a structure for meeting with teachers/professors/deans.
- Have a planning meeting early, and set up a tone of collaboration. It’s more helpful (and less likely to meet resistance) if you present the school with a list of challenges or concerns instead of a list of “you have to’s.” You can then participate in a discussion of how best to address these concerns.
- Set up communication so everyone working with a student is in touch; continuity is critical and it does take a community “in synch” to be the most helpful.
- Past social experience can be intimidating, but past success can be the basis for this year’s start. Are there friends to look for, or a way to become involved this year? Sometimes scripting or talking about what might be shared can help: sharing what happened over the summer, asking about others’ vacations, talking about the new year.
Any new year can bring up the worries of what’s happened in the past; it can also be a fresh start with lessons learned. Being both proactive and calm goes a long way.