My daughter Laila recently turned 3 years old and has been diagnosed on the autism spectrum all in the same month. There are many changes happening to our household and her life following the diagnosis. The biggest one is that she will be starting a special education preschool program in the fall.
Laila has stayed home with me for the past three years. Together we have had our share of dancing, snacks and Disney princess movies. When I started noticing delays in her development, she entered early intervention through our county’s public school system. She received speech and occupational therapy on a weekly basis at home. School is going to be a big deal, and as excited as I am for her to experience new things, as an parent of a child on the autism spectrum, I can’t help but worry and wonder about so many things.
She is mostly nonverbal, she hasn’t had friends yet and she is not potty-trained. So my fellow parents, I would like to share with you five things my family is doing to prepare her for the start of the school year in the hopes that we can all start a conversation full of ideas, tips and support for all our little ones embarking on this new adventure.
1. Print out a picture of the school.
Laila’s speech therapist printed out a PECS (picture exchange communication system) picture of school for her. She was in a transitional group where she was learning what school was all about, and she carried her PECS card to and from the classroom. Her father and I repeated the word “school” to her over and over again. We still look at the card on a daily basis, and I repeat the sentence “Laila is going to go to school.” I point out school and classrooms on TV shows and in movies, and we have been reading plenty of books about school and preschool. I’m never sure how much she understands, but I know it’s a step in making her more comfortable once the big day arrives.
2. Point out school buses.
A school bus will be picking up my daughter and taking her to and from school. I’ve tried pointing out school buses on the road to her as we see them drive by. My local elementary school holds summer classes, and we will be taking a walk to see the school buses before classes start. I figure, the more comfortable she gets with these new things, the easier the transition will be. At least, that is my hope!
3. Communicate about potty-training.
Potty-training a nonverbal child on the autism spectrum can be tough. Her preschool will help in potty-training. We talk about potty-training, and we try to get her to sit on her potty from time to time, but I don’t pressure her to. It’s all about making her comfortable with the concept of it.
4. Meet the teachers.
I am lucky to live in a county where my daughter’s preschool teachers will be making home visits to our household in order to get to know her better. I want to tell them so much about my daughter and who she is as a human being. They will get a chance to see her in her home environment. I suggest my fellow parents make an effort to attend back-to-school nights or meet-and-greets with the teachers. Even if it’s just introducing yourself on the first day of school, your heart will be set at ease knowing you’ve met the person who is in charge of your child throughout the day.
5. Start a schedule.
This is always easier said than done, but I am going to print out a simple schedule with visual cues so she may get used to following one. Wake-up time, breakfast time, play time, snack time, reading time, etc. Make one that is best for your child’s day at home. She will have to follow a similar one at school, so I figured consistency between school and home will help her the most.
Good luck to everyone, and good luck to our little ones starting this great, new adventure. May this school year be full of growth and learning!