Transitioning from Summer to School

How do you help your child with autism get back into the school routine?

Summer is fun. One reason it’s fun is…there’s no school. Right?

How do our kids fare during the summer?

First, our kids sometimes have a few weeks of school during the summer months. My child attends an Extended School Year program for five weeks each summer. The ESY program is offered by our child’s school district and this program is written into my child’s IEP.

Is an ESY summer program like “real” school?

Our child’s ESY program provides our child with additional social situations within a school-like setting, but one difference is the classes are not all about class work and rigid schedules. The environment is much less stressful. They emphasize group activities and socialization. Plus, the program is only four days a week for half a day.

Why have an ESY program?

One reason to have an ESY program is to break up the long summer vacation. Our children have trouble with transitions. So, if they do have some sort of school-like structure during the long summer months, it sometimes makes it easier to get them back into school.

If your summer break is eight weeks long and your child spends five of those eight weeks in an ESY program, then your child has only gone without a school-structured environment for three weeks. The shorten time frame helps the transition back to school.

Is an ESY program our only option for some sort of structured activity during the summer?

Of course not. There are many choices for summer camps for your child to attend. And, many are geared for special needs children.

What do you do with the time your child isn’t in camp or an ESY program?

Well, it is summer. What is one thing that many families do during the summer? They go on vacation. Take your family on a trip and enjoy your child’s time off.

What should we do now that the start to school is only a few days away?

Typically, kids have had a lot of time off during the summer, even if they attend an ESY program or a summer camp. They’ve been on a different schedule. They’ve gotten used to playing lots of games, having lots of downtime, and sleeping late. We even took our vacation this year to the East Coast, which means we’re sleeping in a different time zone.

The first thing you can do to help this transition back to school is talk to your child. Show her a calendar early in the summer, and give her the exact date for the first day of school. Write it down or circle it on the calendar. Our kids aren’t crazy about surprises so let them know well ahead of time when school is starting up again.

What else can you do?

One thing I did this year – while I was preparing for the upcoming school year – was to dig out some language arts lessons for my child to work on during the last week of summer vacation.

Language arts is a harder subject for my child. He prefers math and science. If you ask him to read a story and tell you what just happened or what was the author trying to say, he struggles.

With this in mind – and wanting to prepare him for the return to school – I found a packet of lessons from 3rd grade. This packet had short stories and questions related to each story.  It was a perfect way to my child to get back into the swing of a subject that is difficult for him. During the last week of summer vacation, we did one or two lesson a day.

We also had to address going to bed much later. As I previously mentioned, we took a trip to the East Coast for ten days this summer. We spent those days sleeping on a different schedule. Besides that, my child was staying up much later during the summer months.

About four days before the first day of school, I began to tick back his time. I did it in 15 minutes increments. What I wanted to avoid was trying to get him to go upstairs to get ready for bed at our usual 8:15pm-ish and having him resist the early time. I knew with his protest would come some common sense – he’d been staying up later and getting up later for eight weeks. How was he supposed to all-of-a-sudden go to bed so early?

I thought if I gradually backed him up, it would be easier on him.

Can we do anything else to help our kids?

Each year I take my child to his school a day or two before school starts. We live within walking distance of the school so it’s not hard for us to do. I take my child before school starts because those are the days when the teachers are moving back into their room but there are no kids yet.

We go over to say hello to his teacher and walk around the campus for a few minutes.

This year, since my child’s teacher was new, the principal took us to the classroom and introduced us. We also met with the substitute RSP person (the regular one is out on leave).

I like to take this time to walk around the campus with my child. Visually show him that teachers are returning and gearing back up for school. We even do our typical walk to school.

It’s just another little thing you can do to help your child transition back to school. Getting our kids back to school can sometimes be challenging. Every little “trick” helps.


To find Kimberly Kaplan: – ebook “A Parents’ Guide to Early Autism Intervention”
Twitter: @tipsautismmom



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