Back-to-school tips for children with autism spectrum disorders, ADHD

By Liz Meszaros, MDLinx
Published August 24, 2017

Key Takeaways

To make the back-to-school transition a little smoother for children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and other developmental and behavioral differences, as well as their families, experts from the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston (UTHealth) have compiled some useful tips.

“Starting a new school year is an exciting time, it can also be a source of anxiety to both parents and children, particularly for families with children with ASD or ADHD,” said Anson Koshy, MD, MBE, assistant professor and developmental pediatrician, McGovern Medical School at The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston (UTHealth), Houston, TX.

“Teachers want every child to be successful and parents want to see their children reach their full potential,” said Dr. Koshy. “This is a process and change rarely occurs overnight. If the transition into the school year is a little tough for your family or child in the beginning, remind yourself of your child’s previous accomplishments. Talk with your child’s teacher for a better picture of what they are seeing in the classroom setting.”

Dr. Koshy offered eight tips for parents to help reduce the stress on both children and their families in transitioning back to school:

  • Always plan ahead. Parents should communicate with the new teacher and/or school before classes begin because the more information the teacher has to support your child, the better.
  • Visit before classes start. Plan to take your child in to visit a new school or classroom before the first day of school to meet the teacher. If your child is not permitted to do so, visit the classroom, teacher, and school playground and take pictures for your child.
  • Clearly mark the calendar. Parents should get into the habit of keeping a calendar handy and visible to show children when important days will occur, such as the start of school and other important events leading up to it. Some kids work better when they have warnings ahead of time of such important events.
  • Touch base with former teachers. If your child had a particularly successful previous year, talk with his teacher and find out what his strengths were, as well as what his challenges were and how the teacher and child worked to overcome them. Then share this information with the new teacher.
  • Stay positive and calm. Last minute preparations, such as rushed school supply errands, may cause anxiety not only for the child, but for the entire family as well.
  • Start instilling structure into the daily routine. Transitioning from the ‘lazy’ days of summer to days filled with the routine of school and homework are a big adjustment. Try to begin the transition to more structured days before school officially begins by setting boundaries for bedtime and screen time.
  • Don’t compare one child’s behavior or progress to another.
  • Prioritize after-school activities. If academic issues come up after school starts, extracurricular activities may need to be limited. Discuss this possibility with your child ahead of time to give them an incentive to keep up with their school work. If completing homework becomes a problem, consider that your child may be overscheduled and work to fix this.

Approximately 1 in 68 children in American has an autism spectrum disorder, according to estimates from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“The sooner children with ASDs have access to evidence-based services and treatment, the more likely they are to progress,” said Dr. Koshy, medical director of the UT Physicians Center for Autism and Related Conditions, part of the Children’s Learning Institute at McGovern Medical School at UTHealth.

But, he advised waiting until after the first month of school for analyzing anything.

“When trying to assess if a child has symptoms of ADHD or if a prescribed ADHD medication is effective in a new academic year, it’s helpful to wait until after the first month of school to evaluate how your child is doing. This allows for the reality of routines and expectations to set in order to gain a more realistic measurement,” Dr. Koshy concluded.

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