Supporting My Daughter on the Autism Spectrum Through Back-to-School Transitions

It is two days before school starts back after Christmas break, and my 11-year-old daughter who has a diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder has already started the “I don’t want to go to school” talk. As her parent, I am now used to the getting back to school routine: the panic that sets in for her and then the days of elevating anxiety; implementing strategies and organizing everything in preparation for her going back to school, for us.

My daughter is a very bright and able child; she learns well and progresses in line with her peers. Her difficulties do not lie in the learning of facts, but rather the processing of everything else within the classroom setting. The language used, the people, the body language and the social rules that are unspoken yet seem to be instinctively known by so many. I feel it is the school itself that sends my daughter into a panic, not the learning. It may be the amount of people, the busyness of sights and smells, the noise and the effort it can take for her to focus. I admire her so much for her progress at school, but it is difficult for me to see her anxiety increase from holiday to term time; no parent likes to see their child distressed.

This being said, as she is growing older, we are getting better at alleviating her worry and coping with the stressors of daily life in general. I say “we” because as her parent I very much travel my daughter’s journey alongside her. The professional help just isn’t readily available for my daughter. Not only are you put on waiting lists for months, but if you don’t
follow up the requests with emails and phone calls, the therapy just doesn’t get offered. So, like many other parents I’m sure, much of my daughter’s support is through learning about strategies myself through books, websites and shared ideas from other parents.

One thing that is really helping my daughter with the transition of getting back to school is the use of tick lists and timetables. A structure to the day and the reassurance that everything has been done seems to greatly comfort her and alleviate some of the stress. Once a task is complete, we tick it off the list and go onto the next task until everything has been done. The visual structure to these lists seems to take away a lot of worry and can make us all a lot more productive. As well as tick lists, we also practice strategies to relieve anxiety, which include listening to audio books, breathing techniques and talking about her worries to make them go away. We seem to have learnt many strategies over the years to alleviate anxiety, but these are what work best for us.

It is always difficult to watch my daughter struggle with the transition of going back to school. I know school can cause her additional stress, but I have come to accept that these types of transitions may always cause her to be uncomfortable and invoke stress for her. I have learned I can’t take these stressful things away for her, no matter how much I would like to, but what I can do is build her confidence to such a place where she can feel the stress and anxiety and reduce it to a comfortable level herself. That being said, like our journey so far, it takes small baby steps that build together to bring us to that place, but I believe my daughter can achieve all that she desires; she may just need additional help and support to get her there.

Image via Thinkstock.

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