Back to School in 2020

Back to School in 2020

By Mandy Reinke, Educational Autism Consultant

One thing we can all agree on is that this school year will involve a certain amount of uncertainty.  Whether your student will be attending school in person, virtually, or in a hybrid model, there will be some differences in his or her day.  I think it’s important, though, for us to focus on some of the things that can remain the same as past school years: predictable schedules, routines, and good communication.

Predictable Schedules

Although they may be especially so after the longer than average time away from school that we’ve experienced this year, transitions from summer “schedules” to school schedules are typically challenging for all students.  To ease the transition, it might be helpful to create a social narrative or ask for a video/picture of your student’s teacher(s) for the upcoming year.  Seeing the person(s) with whom they will have most contact helps alleviate anxiety.  If your student is changing buildings, show him or her a picture of the school and floor plan as well.  If your student will be learning virtually, the picture(s) of their teacher(s) will still be helpful and pertinent.


Routine and predictability are good for most of us, including our students.  A visual schedule can help with the transition into your learning venue.  This can be a picture, written words, or combination of both for the school day.  If you are attending school in person, create a morning schedule routine.  If you are going to be attending virtually, create a schedule with pictures of your student’s designated work space, lunch time, and breaks.  You may want to create choices for “down time” as well.  If your student is in a hybrid model, have a calendar for in-person days and virtual days with schedules as described above.  This strategy will help alleviate anxiety and create some predictability for the days.

There are many great resources available to help navigate and explain the uncertainty and change around this school year as well.  This link leads to helpful information on explaining the coronavirus to your student, social narratives on mask wearing, and other pandemic-related topics.  Additionally, there are many social narratives related to changes at school, hybrid learning, and some differences your student may face here. To aid with mask wearing, involve your student as much as possible.  Have your student choose her own mask.  Try different styles/fabrics to see which masks appear most comfortable.  If a face covering is not feasible for your student to wear, communicate openly with staff to make sure this is understood.


Communication between home and school, whether that is in-person or virtual, is always a key to a successful school year.  Please reach out to your student’s teacher and/or administrator to get your questions answered and share important information about your student.   When reaching out to the teacher, ask what method of communication if preferred (phone call, e-mail, communication notebook) and what your hopes are for frequency of communication.   Each student has different needs and the amount/frequency of communication necessary for a successful year varies between students.

Although there are many things that will be different this school year, try to focus on the things that are in your circle of control.  Focus on using strategies such as schedules and transition planning to help alleviate anxieties and get your school year off to the best possible start!

Mandy Reinke

Mandy Reinke has worked in the field of autism as both a special educator and autism consultant for the past 21 years. She provides program support for various school districts, families, and employers across the state. She also works for the Hortonville Area School District as their program support for students with ASD as well as an Allies in Mental Health Education coach for CESA 7. Mandy provides trainings, consultation services and coaching on a wide variety of topics related to Autism Spectrum Disorders across the State.


Inside Story of My Life

Inside Story of My Life

By Timothy O’Keefe

About Me

I am a 32-year-old non-speaking autistic man who lives in Madison, Wisconsin.  I have lived in my own apartment for four years because my parents formed a company to support me.  My family are my workers and they come over in turns to support me.  I have my own space and my own things.  It is set up so I can’t crash stuff.  My apartment is very calm and cozy, it makes me feel good.  I love it, and I love my family.



I love it so much that I have a job.  My job is my favorite thing. I have worked for the Madison Public Schools Building Services since 2009. The Lafollette High School Post Grad program get me my job. I am supported by ICW.

I work M-F for two hours a day. I shred secrets for the Madison Public Schools. They include Payroll records, grades, IEPs, and human resources records. We recycle our shredding; it is good for the environment.  I have a second job with my family’s company.  I wash linens at the laundromat.  It is awesome.  I have always liked laundromats so I am good at it.

Jobs are for grown-ups, not kids. I have behaviors, but I learn I need to knock them off if I want to keep my job. I am far from perfect, but I have many people who help me to get to where I want to go. My job coaches are the best, they are my rock.



I communicate with Facilitated Communication, or typing.  It’s when someone gives me support while I type so I can focus. I was four when I started typing. I believe mom was pretty happy when I typed my first word.  PECs sucks, I am much smarter than that.

I mostly type with my mom, my sister a facilitator and a job coach. I think it especially helps in meetings. They listen. They think differently. Even if they not sure, they not treat me like an idiot. When I type, either they believe me or they think my mom is ridiculous. It’s ok for me either way.

I need help getting my thoughts out. It is the worst when I don’t have access to typing and can’t get my thoughts out.  I see the whole page.  I never forget anything. I get so nervous if someone is watching. I just yearn to be able to tell others how smart I am; (my goal is) to type on my own. I love typing with people.

I just think people need to know more about typing. People need to get more facilitators.  Kids need to see people like me to see that we are very intelligent. People need to hear our stories.


Thoughts on Autism

I feel really good about my life but I hate having autism.  Here are my biggest issues:

  • I don’t like people touching me.
  • Lots of times people get upset if I get stuck; they need to back off and give me time.
  • There is too much giving me orders.
  • People just think I can’t learn but they are wrong.
  • People make me more nervous if they push me too hard

I just think I keep having more problems because my body is not programmed like other people. I do think I might be getting better at knowing when I have pain. I wish I had more control in my life. I need more help to be an adult.

Most people see us as just too stupid to know anything. Try to look at me as an adult and understand I know much more than you might think.

As a small child, I was mostly greatly angry.  Teachers need to be more patient. People need to learn that we are all very intelligent but understand I might be nervous.   Nothing makes me more nervous than having lots of people around.


Conferences and Groups

I really like going to conferences but they are hard for me.  I really mostly want to be at conferences to meet more people like me.  I just need to be with people who type.

I have been to the Inclusion Connection conference in Cedar Rapids for two years. They had many great doings. I had a great time.  I love seeing so many people who type to communicate and knowing I might be some day able to type on my own.  And I was happy to see some new families with young kids who might find their voice with typing. Other people like me have written books. I think I would like to do that.

The online conference (Stronger Together 2020) was fabulous. I loved it that I could watch it on TV and ask questions.  I like it I can go to all the sessions and not melt down.

I have a Social Group (when we don’t have COVID).  We meet together and type.  They are my brotherhood.  If you are interested, here is a short video of me with one of my facilitators working on independent typing –

I am happy to connect with people who want to know more about my story.  My email is

Timothy OKeefe 1

Timothy O’Keefe

Timothy O’Keefe was born in Stevens Point, and moved to Madison in middle school. He is a graduate of LaFollette High School and has been employed by the Madison Public School District Building Services for over 10 years through support from ICW. Timothy has been typing to communicate since kindergarten and has participated in The Social Group since its inception several years ago. He is a member of the YMCA and enjoys swimming, bowling and attending art class at Arts for All. He enjoys attending conferences, including Autism Society of Greater Wisconsin, Autism Society of America, AutCom, and the Inclusion Connection.