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.
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 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.