How to help your special needs child change schools – tips on helping them cope with the change!

Changing between activities or settings is something people do daily.  Whether at school, home, or in the workplace – change is inevitable.  Transitioning occurs frequently and requires people to stop an activity, move from one location to another, and begin something new. 

For people with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) change is however challenging.  Children struggling with anxiety may also have greater difficulty in shifting attention from one task to another or with changing routines. 

Because of the transitioning difficulties so many children with Development Delays have moving schools can be overwhelming.  Here are a few tips to help your child settle into a new environment:

  1. Social Stories:  If your child is on is on the autism spectrum you may already be familiar with the use of social stories to help with a variety of activities.  If you are not familiar with what a social story is please do some research on the topic!  Social Stories are great for a variety of activities and they are easy to make.  Make a short social story (or download one from the internet) where your child is the main character, using narration, photo’s and drawings to prepare them for the new school.  This can also be a handy tool when travelling; going to a friend’s house or even to the mall.
  2. Familiarize your child with the new surroundings:  Take photos of the school, class, the teacher, friends, desks, chairs and even the playground.  Show the photos to your child and talk to them about the new school and what they can expect on their first day.
  3. Trial visits:  Discuss the possibility of short trial visits for your child at the new school.  Whether the visit is an hour, a morning or the entire day.  Allow the child to visit the school before they need to start fulltime. 
  4. Communication is vital:  If you are stressed your child with be stressed.  If you are anxious your child will be anxious!  Be mindful of what you are communicating to your child about the new school.  Stay positive, let you child know they are not alone.  Reassure them that change makes a lot of people nervous, even you, but a new school or setting can also mean fun and new friends. 
  5. Avoid chaos:  Schedule and calm are vital aspect of the morning routine prior to the first day of starting at a new school.  Don’t be late, make sure you have everything prepared, food must be ready, bags must be packet and everything must run like clockwork.  The more settled you are during the time of transitioning the more settled your child will be.  Make sure you are not running late and allow for enough travelling time so you don’t get frustrated in the car on route. 
  6. Prepare them for the 1st day’s activities:  Prior to dropping of your child on the 1st day of school get the 1st day’s class plan from the teacher.  Prepare your child with a “first this will happen, then that will happen” talk.  You can even prepare (with the help of the teacher) a sequencing board of visual cards to guide your child through day one.
  7. Pack something special into the lunchbox:  Nothing make a child happier than a special treat on the first day of school.  If the morning was a bit rough then breakfast or morning snack time will surely put a big smile on your little ones face when they see their favourite treat. 
  8. Emotional stability:  Keep calm mommy and daddy.  Crying and being emotional, clinging to your child and battling to say goodbye is not going to help an already anxious child settle into his/her new classroom.  If you need to have a cry save it for after you have left the building …
  9. Briefing the teachers or therapist:  It is important to take the time to brief the teachers and therapist on your child and their specific needs but do not do this in-front of the child.  You can arrange for a chat with the teacher / therapist prior to the 1st day or school or you can chat to them after you have dropped kiddo in class.  Even a phone call to the teacher will be better then discussing your concern about your child in-front of your child. 

Of course, none of this prep work can absolutely guarantee that a child will not cry or have a difficult time letting go … Some days are going to be harder than others and parents need to realize that it will take time for the child to completely adjust to their new space, routine, schedules, sights, smells and general environment.   Keep calm throughout the process of settling, talk to the principal or the teacher about any concerns you may have but remember why you are doing this for your child.    

Amazing K is a registered ECD and Partial Care Facility in Johannesburg. We are a private autism school and therapy centre for children from age 2 years. Our learners receive the best of both the schooling and therapy world. We offer Individualized Education Programs involved, ABA, Speech- and Augmentive Alternative Communication (AAC) therapy as well as a full and adapted Academic Curriculum. Read more about this Johannesburg Autism school here.

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Ilse Kilian-Ross

Ilse Kilian-Ross is the owner of Amazing K, a registered ECD and Partial Care Facility in Johannesburg. Amazing K is a private adhd school, autism school and therapy centre for children from age 2 - 6 years where learners receive the best of both the schooling and therapy world. The autism school offers Individualized Education Programs, Speech- and Augmentive Alternative Communication (AAC) therapy as well as a full and adapted Academic Curriculum.