When your child is ready for school, expect exciting new opportunities and challenges.
The right education
plan can help your child reach his or her full potential. But school is not just
about learning. Just like his or her peers, your child is navigating friendships and
Follow this 8-step checklist to help your child succeed during the elementary school
Step 1: Look for Support at School
Many kids with autism spectrum disorder are diagnosed by age 3 and receive early
intervention services. When they turn 3, they're eligible for additional services
at their local school district with the help of an individualized
education program (IEP).
The IEP may include therapy for speech/language, behavior, or sensory concerns.
In school, kids might get extra support through a classroom aide or during a "lunch
bunch" or social skills group.
Parents meet with an IEP team to determine a child's needs. While you can't insist
on certain services, you can appeal the IEP if you feel that the plan doesn't meet
your child's needs. The IEP is reviewed and updated each year, but you can ask for
updates before that to make sure your child is meeting goals.
Not all kids with autism need an IEP. Those who do not qualify for an IEP can get
educational assistance through a 504
education plan, which provides for accommodations in a regular classroom that
improve a child's learning experience.
Step 2: Get Tech Savvy
Technology can help kids with autism improve verbal skills, social skills, and
behavior. Through the use of educational apps and computer games and programs, kids
can increase their focus, get rewarded for good behavior, learn new skills, and have
fun doing it. Some devices (called "assistive devices") can even vocalize kids' thoughts
if they have trouble speaking.
Ask your child's doctor or speech or behavioral therapist for suggestions on what
kinds of apps or other media can help your child. Many games help to reinforce the
skills that kids are already learning in the classroom or during therapy sessions.
Step 3: Plan Playdates and Social Time
It's important for kids with autism to socialize with their peers, even if sometimes
it can be challenging for them. Playdates and other activities are some much-needed
chances to practice social skills and make new friends. Those who are struggling can
sign up for a social skills group, which helps with things like introducing yourself,
talking to others, reading social cues, and more.
When helping your child choose a playmate, look for someone who shares the same
interests. Pre-plan the activities (like going to a park, playground, or another activity
you know your child will enjoy), and avoid places with too much noise and stimulation
if you think it will overwhelm your child. Let your child know what to expect ahead
of time. Consider using a visual schedule with pictures or create social stories to
help "tell ahead" what will happen during a playdate.
Step 4: Get Kids Moving
Physical activity is also great for kids with autism — it can help improve
their fitness, coordination, strength, and body awareness. Regular physical activity
can help prevent childhood obesity. Exercise may also help decrease repetitive, self-stimulating
behaviors and improve attention.
Many sports programs, such as Special Olympics, Little League Challenger Division,
TOPSoccer and at the YMCA, can help your child to be physically active while also
meeting new friends who have similar challenges. Karate, therapeutic horseback riding
programs, and aquatic therapy are also great ways to keep kids active.
Step 5: Address Emotional Needs
At times your child may feel left out, left behind, or bullied.
Kids with autism sometimes have trouble relating to others, and this can make them
feel angry or sad.
Get help from a professional counselor if your child shows signs of depression,
which include sadness, moodiness, or keeping to himself or herself. Signs of bullying
not wanting to go to school
If your child is being teased or bullied, speak with school administrators as soon
as possible. At home, talk with your child about the experience and use role-play
to discuss how to handle bullies and report problems to teachers, guidance counselors,
or other trusted adults.
Step 6: Prepare for Puberty
As puberty approaches, your child will be dealing with new emotions that are a
normal part of growing up. Talk with your doctor about what to expect as your child
matures and how to handle it. Reassure your child that the changes that come with
puberty are normal.
Teach your child the difference between public and private places when it comes
to private behaviors like getting dressed or touching private parts. When girls get
their periods they will need to learn how to change pads, while boys might need reassurance
that wet dreams are normal.
Talk to your child about appropriate versus inappropriate touching, explaining
that he or she should immediately tell you if someone crosses the line.
Step 7: Find Support
Dealing with the day-to-day challenges of parenting a child with autism can be
overwhelming. Having a strong
support network can help you power through even the most challenging days.
To connect with other parents who understand your situation, find a local support
group or get involved with a local chapter of a national autism awareness group. If
a local group isn't available, look for online support.
Step 8: Secure Your Child's Future
If you haven't written a will or set up a legal
and financial framework for your child's future, it's not too late. Talk with
an attorney who specializes in special needs law and a financial advisor to find the
best way to manage your assets and prepare financially for your child's adulthood.
If you have already written a will, review it from time to time to make sure that
the custodial plan you made when your child was younger is still the best option.