Back-to-School time can be so stressful for kids, especially our sensory kids! All of the unknowns can be so scary! While our kids might have a lot of questions like, "Who's my teacher?" "What does she look like?" "Where's my classroom? "Where do I eat my lunch?" "Do I have my own desk?" "Will I have to sit still all day?" "Is there a swing on the playground?" some of our kids aren't able to tell us that those things are causing worry. While we might not know exactly what our kids are thinking, we can help provide some predictability, which is so crucial for our children. Keep their routines consistent and their sensory needs met and you'll have a successful start to the new school year!
Consider these six strategies for a seamless Back-to-School!
1. Visit the teacher and the new classroom on a day other than Open House. While you're there, take pictures of the teacher, his desk, the cafeteria and the playground so that you can continue to talk about those things once you get home and for the week leading up to school. Our kids like to know what to expect, so this will help them feel better.
2. Create a social story using pictures you've taken or ones that you draw together about different parts of the school day: the car ride, the bus ride, the teacher, circle time, new friends, lunch time, music time, PE, who's picking him up, or any other part of the day that your child is excited or nervous about.
2. Prepare the teacher for your child's sensory needs. While we don't want to overwhelm her, we do want to help her, help your child. Prioritize 3 things that your child needs and what you or last year's teacher found that works. Ask her if you can send in fidgets, objects or special snacks for chewing, or a dynamic seat cushion.
3. Limit morning chaos! Create a visual schedule for the morning routine. Use a timer (sand timer, microwave, etc.) to keep everyone on track. Prepare as much as you can the night before so he knows what to expect the next morning: the outfit, what he'll have fore breakfast, etc. Allow him to wear his most comfy, tag-free outfit. Be sure to wash any new clothes to get rid of the store smells and "crispness". Provide a breakfast that will meet his sensory needs. Does he need "alerting" foods to wake up or should he eat a chewy bagel or suck his favorite yogurt through a straw?
4. Create a cozy corner for some "decompression" time once he comes home. Facilitate any other sensory strategies that you know makes him feel good and organized. A safe place for your child to retreat to in the classroom may be needed, too. Help your child and his teacher identify or create a quiet retreat.
5. Provide structure and organization surrounding homework. Follow the same routine each day. Some kids need some outdoor time before getting started, while others need to get it done right away. Have a "finished" bin or notebook to be sure that once they've competed it, it actually gets handed in! Use any sensory strategies that you need to: chew gum, stand up, sit on a ball, take movement breaks, eat a crunchy snack, listen to music, etc.
6. Promote a calm and predictable bedtime routine. Ditch any electronics two hours before bedtime! Allow plenty of time for winding down. If bedtime is at 8:00, start at 7:00 with a warm bath with dim lighting, follow it with some deep pressure or massage. Read a book together or talk about what tomorrow may bring using a soft, slow, calm voice. Limit other household distractions by closing doors or even using a white noise machine. Some children calm and fall asleep easier with heavier blankets such as quilts or chenille blankets or the use of weighted blankets.
Michelle Yoder, OTR/L