What to expect when returning to school and college
We know returning to school or college after a long break can be hard. New and significant changes following Coronavirus, could make a transition back even more difficult.
Children and young people will have to prepare for a different routine, different rules and for some, different peers and support staff.
Here we have outlined the changes that may happen within a school or college and given advice on how to support autistic children and young people through these changes.
Changes to expect
You can view our visual story explaining how going back might be different as well as finding more detail below.
Families also might find the questions in our going back to school or college checklist helpful to prepare for the transition back.
The school may look different
Schools or colleges may change the learning environment in order to observe social distancing. That means that your child’s classroom setting may look completely different. For example, instead of a table seating four pupils, it may only sit one. Schools and colleges may also create new one-way systems of moving through the building, staff may use protective equipment and emphasise hand and respiratory hygiene within lessons.
Some children and young people with autism may initially struggle to understand the concept of social distancing rules and this may have an impact on the way they are able to relate and interact with others. Schools and colleges should be taking reasonable measures to support both social distancing and social skills.
Personal protective equipment (PPE) such as face masks will be another novel factor, especially if your child has not come into contact with them yet. Our what is PPE visual story explains the purpose and need for facemasks, gloves and other protective equipment.
Changes in staff and peers
Due to the phased return of pupils to schools and staff availability, your child may be supported by different members of staff rather than individuals previously familiar to them. There may also be changes in their peer group as some children, who your child was used to being around and interacting with, may still be at home depending on their situation and risk assessment.
Changes in structure and routine
Most schools will continue to deliver an adapted, shorter timetable. This will mean that the school or college hours may be different to how they were prior to the closure. This will have an impact routine and structure at school or college. Visual stories can support changes to routine.
Preparing autistic pupils for these changes
Collaborate with your school or college
Communication with your child’s school or college is essential in working towards a smooth transition. Your school or college can provide you with useful resources such as prepared timetables or visual stories that will help you prepare your child for the return to school.
Acknowledge the challenges
Your child may find the transition back to school difficult. They may communicate this in different ways, and for some children or young people these changes can be very upsetting. Some children or young people may go through a grieving process for the loss of their old structure, routine and relationships that have been disrupted. This is a natural response. You can support your child by acknowledging the challenges they are experiencing and use this communication to support a healthy relationship.
Focus on the positive and tune into their strengths
Another important way of supporting your child is to focus on what they are doing well, acknowledging these moments and praising them for their efforts. Each child has a strength and focusing on their strength, will help both you and your child feel positive and motivated.
Setting flexible limits and realistic expectations
Your child will experience some challenges because of these changes. This may have an impact on their attitudes and behaviour. There are lots of ways you can manage behaviours that challenge at home including keeping a consistent approach, while allowing for flexibility and setting realistic expectations.
Your child will adapt to the changes in the environment, structure and routine. However, they will need time and patience to do so. Being realistic of what to expect each day will help you feel confident and calm, and your child will feel encouraged, supported and motivated.