Encore Episode: “Back to School: Smooth Transitions for Neurodivergent Families

August 18, 2023 Jessica Kidwell Season 2 Episode 11
Encore Episode: “Back to School: Smooth Transitions for Neurodivergent Families
Show Notes Transcript

Summer school sessions are coming to an end, so why not re-visit a season one episode on “Back to School”?

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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Speaker 1:

I'm Jessica Kidwell and this is a Neuroversity Summer School session. Actually, it will be the last summer school session because it's the end of August and that means that kids and families are gearing up to start school for a new year, or maybe you already have. The prospect of a new school year can bring mixed feelings for everyone, but in the context of this podcast, my mind goes towards the feelings neurodivergent students and their families might be having. I did an entire episode in season one on helpful tips to consider as you transition from the less structured and long days of summer back into the more structured and possibly frenetic days of the school year. I'm recycling that episode here today and I'd love for you to check it out for some concrete tips on how to navigate this transitional time in your neurodivergent household. Plus, I'd love to hear what works for you or your family. I am always looking to add to my list. What works for us might not work for you, but what works for you might be helpful to someone else, so let me know. Oh, and, season three of Neuroversity will be coming to you in September, so be sure to look for new episodes coming soon. Alright, fellow curious minds, enjoy this encore episode and I'll talk to you when we start our next year at Neuroversity. 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 onto three dreaded words back to school, or maybe they're your 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've 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 and predictability are all words that are necessary to form that safe, stable and nurturing environment. Anytime there is a situation which causes a change to the predictability and routine of life, that creates a transition point. And listen, life is full of situations that are unpredictable and no amount of tools or preparation or articles or podcasts will keep you from having to navigate transition points. But having a few tools at your disposal might just help those transitions be small bumps or detours, rather than being a complete derailing, either emotionally or physically. First, talk about the upcoming change. There was a time when I would avoid bringing the 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 I'm pretty sure that translated directly right into 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 don't mean sit down. I have something I need to talk to you about, kind of a summit, I mean casually and regularly. For instance, stores in their obsessive need to begin selling things months before you even need it are a great conversation starter. As soon as you see those school supplies being advertised or show up in the front of your local target, use that as a starting point. Oh look, school supplies in July just what we need. But that quick acknowledgement of the silliness of the early preparation can actually turn into a conversation about when school is actually starting or what types of things we might need for school. Acknowledging what has been great about the lack of routine is important as well. Ask your child what has been their favorite part of the summer or what else they'd like to do to finish the summer off before school starts. For instance, in my house right now a sleepover is happening. I kept putting it off most of the summer, but as summer is winding down, that was something that one of my kids really wanted to have in order to feel like their summer was complete. They also wanted to go to the farmers market, which I didn't realize that would take so long to get to. But, alas, the farmers market is one last thing we need to do before school starts. Checking the boxes of any sure wish we had done can actually serve as an extended turn lane before moving towards that exit ramp of transition. But the bottom line is 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 to what you think might be stressful. Next up and I can't stress this enough use a visual schedule of some sort. Seriously, it can literally be anything from a fancy scheduling app for your device, a pre-made visual schedule that you can order online, or Etsy, a homemade visual schedule if you're the crafty type, a whiteboard, a chalkboard, a dog calendar, a paper chain. Do you see where I'm going? Literally anything, as long as you use it. If you're like me, you will find something incredible and highly rated and decide this this is going to be the thing that sets us up for success this year. I just know it and you buy it and then you don't use it because it was either too complicated or required too much preparation to set it up. If you're not going to use it, it's not going to work. We finally landed here in my house on just a good old-fashioned whiteboard where there's 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 only 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 really easy to just keep going with what has always worked, but now that I have a middle and a high schooler, what I'm forcing myself to try and, let's face it, it doesn't always work to hand over more and more autonomy their way. Number three 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 events that actually does more bad than good for your child. So here's my suggestion Find out options from your school for a smaller setting for your child to come into the classroom for the very first time. This can be as formalized as requesting this be a part of their IEP or individualized education plan. But I've also found that if you send an email to your school counselor or your child's teacher and ask to come in, even just 10 minutes before the formal event starts, that actually can go a long way in decreasing the impact of all the stimuli without actually 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 then decide to stay or to leave, depending on what works for them. And if the answer when you ask 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 two thirds of a scheduled window of time to visit. It's surprisingly calm that last one third of the visit so show up a little late. I can't believe that I'm actually saying that my husband would not be happy. 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. Are you losing it? Tears, meltdowns, stemming 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 and refills your child's bucket. And listen, there is a super thin line for me personally between overindulgent and healthy recharging. So I 100% acknowledge that it's 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. It's not an afterthought, it needs to be an actual upfront. Do this to assure greater success. Thought so, talk about it, have some form of visual schedule, reach out to the school or teacher for a formal or informal one-on-one meeting and 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 and because, as always, there's always room at Neuroversity for more curious minds to enroll. Neuroversity is hosted and produced by Jessica Kidwell. Our audio engineer is Jared Nicolay at Mixed Tape Studios. Jared also created our theme music. Graphic Design for Neuroversity by Kevin Adkins. Web support is provided by George Fox. For more information about this episode, ways to support the podcast or anything related to Neuroversity, please visit our website at wwwneuroversitypodcom. You can also follow us on your podcast app and social media sites. We are at NeuroversityPod on Instagram, twitter, linkedin and Facebook and if you like what we're doing, please tell others about Neuroversity and give us a review on Apple Podcasts. There's plenty of room for more curious minds to enroll.