Returning to school can be very exciting for children. It can mean re-connecting with friends and all the social fun! It can mean a return to favourite subjects, fun activities....
But settling back into school after the holidays can also be a time of anxiety and tiredness.
For some children, returning to the social life of school can bring up anxieties and challenges. After the relative freedom of the holidays, they may find it hard to re-adjust back into the routine of the classroom. As discussed in my previous series of posts on the transition to school, children with special needs may need a slow transition back into the learning routine. And there may be some social "bumps" along the way.
Some suggestions for helping children with Autism, Aspergers or developmental disabilities settle back into the social routine include:
- Using photos of friends and staff to remind the child of who they will be seeing at school.
- Talking about the photos to remind the child of how they interact with these people. For example, "This is Johnny. You play soccer with Johnny on the playground!"
- Display a list of the school rules (at home and in class), with illustrations/photos, and revise, review, talk about and practice them.
- Where possible, arrange small group, supervised activities involving the child's interest at recess and lunch breaks to minimise the sensory and social input. This is a good way to prevent behaviour difficulties that may happen due to the busy, noisy nature of the playground.
- Establish a home/school reward system so going back to school has its extrinsic (external, "artificial") rewards, even if the child finds it hard to see anything positive about being back at school.
Returning to school can be a tiring business for everyone. But it is especially important to recognise that children with diverse needs may find it just that bit more tiring.
This may be because of sensory processing difficulties or impairments. For example, children with hearing impairments often have to work much harder to process and interpret sounds. Children with sensory sensitivities may be tired out due to higher levels of stress during the day as they get used to all the sights, smells and sounds of school again.
Tiredness may also be due to physical disabilities. For example, sitting for extended periods of time, moving around the school and having limited "rest periods" throughout the day could have an impact on children with Cerebral Palsy.
Concentrating and communicating is also a very tiring activity. For children with ADHD or ADD, who struggle with maintaining attention, re-training themselves back into school can be very tiring. Children with language difficulties, including children with Autism and dyspraxia or apraxia, concentrating and listening gets very tiring by the end of the day.
This may mean that, not just in the first few weeks, a child's "endurance" cracks by the final session of the school day. So having less challenging, less intense activities towards the end of the day, and minimising the amount of homework given is essential.
Children arriving home exhausted are not likely to cope with any further physical or "thinking" demands placed on them. Putting further demands on them does not allow for recovery time, and also can mean an increase in difficult behaviour as the child struggles to cope.
This links with the previous points about concentration and language. However, there may be the added factor of a child with special needs "regressing" during the holidays. Words they could read, things they could say and do, may have been "lost" during the holidays. This may simply be due to lack of practice as the words and activities of school are often quite different to those at home.
Be prepared to re-teach some old things before adding too many new concepts and activities. Revision will be important to get the child back into the swing of things.