As the dog days of summer wind down, it’s time for many of us to turn our attention on to three dreaded words, “back to school”, or maybe they’re you’re favorite three words! Who am I to judge?
One thing that is certain, it’s a transition, and transitions do not always go smoothly. Especially in my neurodivergent household. But regardless of the neurodivergence that is in your household, here are some helpful tips that could make back to school a little less rocky.
And be sure to let me know what works for you and/or your neurodivergent household. There are all sorts of minds and all sorts of ways to communicate. I'm sharing ours. Would love to hear what works for you!
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I’m Jessica Kidwell, and this is Neuroversity. A space to expand our understanding of Neurodiversity and elevate neurodivergent voices and experiences. As the dog days of summer wind down, it’s time for many of us to turn our attention on to three dreaded words, “back to school”, or maybe they’re you’re favorite three words! Who am I to judge? One thing that is certain, it’s a transition, and transitions do not always go smoothly. Especially in my neurodivergent household. But regardless of the neurodivergence that is in your household, some helpful tips that I have pulled together could make back to school a little less rocky. So curious minds, let’s begin:
A child, neurodivergent or not, thrives when they are in an environment that feels safe, stable, and nurturing. And Routine. Structure. Predictability are all words that are necessary to forming a safe, stable, and nurturing environment. Anytime there is a situation which causes a change to the predictability and routine of life, this creates a transition point. Listen, Life is FULL of situations that are unpredictable. And no amount of tools or preparation or articles or podcasts (ahem) will keep you from having to navigate transition points but, having a few tools at your disposal to navigate these situations might just help those points be small bumps or detours, rather than being a complete de-railing, either emotionally or physically.
First, talk about the upcoming change. There was a time when I would avoid bringing change up for fear that I would set off a spiral of anxiety earlier than necessary. But then I realized that avoidance was more for me than it was for my neurodivergent child. I wasn’t sure what reaction I would get, so I would bring up any upcoming change in routine with a lot of fear and trepidation, and um, I’m Pretty sure that translated directly right to my kiddo that something requiring fear and trepidation was coming. So, Instead, talk about the change. At least a week ahead of time, and even sooner, depending on your child. And I’m not talking about a big “sit down, I have something I need to talk to you about” summit, I mean casually and regularly. Stores, in their obsessive need to begin selling things months before you even need them, are a great conversation starter. As soon as you see those school supplies being advertised, use that as a starting point. “Oh, look! School supplies. In July! Just what we need.” But a quick acknowledgement of the silliness of the early preparation could turn into a conversation about when school is starting or what types of things we need for school. And acknowledging what has been great about the break is important as well. Ask your child what has been their favorite part of the summer or what else would they like to do to finish the summer off before school starts. Checking the boxes of any “sure wish we had done….” Can serve as an extended turn lane before moving towards that exit ramp of transition. But just talk about it. You may find that one of those casual conversations can help identify for you and your child what areas are the most stress inducing for them, as opposed as for you!
Next up, and I can’t stress this enough, use a visual schedule of some sort. Seriously, it can be literally anything from a scheduling app for your device, a pre-made visual schedule, a homemade visual schedule, a white board, a chalk board, a calendar, a paper chain, see where I’m going, anything. As long as you use it. If you’re like me, you will find something incredible and highly rated and decide THIS will be the thing that sets us all up for success this year, I just know it! And then I don’t use it. Because it was too complicated. Or required too much preparation to set up. We finally landed on just a good ol fashioned white board where there is a general daily schedule and then the freedom to scribble an update whenever it occurs. One of my kids is big on checking things off, the other just likes knowing what’s coming up, so glances at it the night before. Regardless of what you decide to use, just make sure it works for your family and use it. That’s where the consistency part of building stability and predictability comes into play. And as your child gets older and increases their own independence, help them establish what works for them. It can be easy to just keep going with what has always worked, but now that I have a middle and a highschooler, I’m forcing myself to try, and lets face it, it doesn’t always work, to hand over more and more autonomy their way.
Number 3, When it comes to “meet the teacher” or school open houses, these events are overwhelming for everyone, but especially for neurodivergent individuals. If you combine the sensory overload of the amount of people, the noise, the smells, with the uncertainty of where to go or who you will see, these seemingly helpful events can turn into an event that actually does more bad than good for your child. Here’s my suggestion, Find out options from your school for a smaller setting for your child to come into the classroom for the first time. This can be as formalized as requesting this to be a part of your IEP (individualized education plan), but I also found that if you send an email to your school counselor or child’s teacher and asking to come in even just 10 minutes before the formal event starts, that can go a long way in decreasing the impact of all the stimuli without asking the school or the teacher to do extra work or add time to their availability. And as the crowd grows around your child, you can decide to stay or leave, depending on what works for them. And if the answer is “no, that’s not possible”, then wait towards the last 15 minutes of the appointed time to visit. Eager parents and kids tend to show up within the first 2/3 of a scheduled window of time. It’s surprisingly calm that last 1/3 of the visit.
Last, and absolutely not least, is to let yourself and your kiddo off the hook during this time. No amount of preparation or planning will prevent all bumps in the road. Mental and physical exhaustion is real during these first few weeks of school. For everyone. And therefore it is so important to be aware of how we are treating ourselves. Losing it? Tears? Meltdowns? Stimming? Sensory helpers? Rest? Exercise? Staring at a screen? Brownies? Whatever is needed to recharge and fill your OWN bucket needs to be valued and allowed, as well as what works for your child. And listen, there’s is a thin line for me between overindulgent and healthy recharging, so I acknowledge that it is important to be aware of just how much time is being spent on quote unquote “recharging”. But it is an essential player in the back to school routine. Not an afterthought, an actual up front, “do this to assure greater success” thought.
Talk about it
Have some form of a visual schedule
Reach out to the school or teacher for a formal or informal 1:1 meeting
Take care of yourself
And That’s kind of it for my family. Sounds simple right? Yeah, …..right. So, now I want to hear from you! What did I miss? What works for you? How does your family prepare for back to school? And how does it change or not change over time? The more ideas the merrier as many of us move into the back-to-school transition. Because as always, there’s always room at