Whether it be a hybrid model or full-time back to school plan, many children and families are already, or soon to be, facing the adjustment of returning to in-person schooling. There may be feelings of anxiety, excitement, confusion, relief, whatever it may be, of returning, and you’re not alone.
One of the primary diagnostic criteria for autism spectrum disorder (ASD) as stated in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) is that the individual shows restricted, repetitive patterns of behavior, interests, or activities. Often, a change in routine or a something new (e.g. a new story at bedtime/ a new subject in class) can trigger challenging behaviors- crying, yelling, aggression, self-injurious behavior (SIB), elopement, refusal, etc. The inflexibility of some children can be minute to minute, and vary from the placement of items, how to use/play with toys, their bedtime and morning routine, and so much more. Some of your children may have never adjusted to distance learning, they may have adjusted right away, or maybe they are just starting to adjust now…making the thought of such a huge change, and the effect it could have, intimidating to some.
Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) can help! ABA can help alter routines; previous routines and new ones. ABA can also help teach your child how to cope and adapt to change. Communication is important to have with your child. Let them know about going back to school. Make sure they are aware when they are going back to school and what their school day schedule will look like. Have a visual if you can– put it on a calendar, have a virtual day countdown. Start adjusting to and practicing steps in the new routine at least two weeks prior if possible. Some steps to take are having a set bedtime and wake up time that works with the upcoming in-person school schedule. Practice handwashing for before and after eating, after using the bathroom, etc. Start to incorporate wearing a mask in increments. Increase the time the mask is worn over time. Go over school expectations and put whatever expectations you can into your distance learning day to practice. Most of all, ask for help! Have open communication with your children, their teachers, and other service providers. Ask questions, we want to help!
–Morgan Ottone, Current RBT & BCBA in-training