Back-To-School Tips for Parents of Children with Autism

Back-To-School Tips for Parents of Children with Autism

By: Steven W. Payne, Ph.D., BCBA-D
Melmark Behavior Analyst
Assistant Professor of Psychology, California State University, Fresno

Back-to-school time can be both an exciting and challenging time for any parent. However, for the children of parents on the autism spectrum, these challenges can be amplified. Below are some tips to make your child’s school transition as successful as possible.

Begin preparation early. Preparation for the transition back to school should begin as early as possible. As most parents of children with autism know, many children have trouble with transitions. With a transition as large as going back to school following the summer break, you should prepare as much in advance as possible. Although some children will be perfectly fine hopping on the bus the first day of school, for many others, there is much work to be done before this first day.

Help your child be prepared. One part of the preparation process is making sure your child is prepared for their transition. There are a variety of things you can do to help your child prepare for their first day of school. First, arrange a meeting between your child and his teacher. This meeting should help the teacher build rapport with your child and help eliminate some of the fear your child might have on the first day with a new teacher. Second, help your child plan out their day. Talk to your child and let them know what they will be doing at school. Role-play some of the different things they will be doing at school, and be sure to provide as much reinforcement as possible when your child is successful. Pair these role-plays with social stories and go over these different scenarios with your child before their first day. If you can, role-play these scenarios in the actual school or a similar place to help aid in generalization to the school setting. Again, reinforcement for your child’s success is key.

Help your school be prepared. In addition to the planning of goals in your child’s Individualized Education Program (IEP) or Individualized Family Service Plan (IFSP) meeting, there are many things you can do to help your school be successful in working with your child. Be sure to communicate with your child’s teacher often, and share pertinent information with them on a regular basis. Let your child’s teacher know about your child’s favorite things, such as food or activities, so that they can incorporate them into any reinforcement systems they might have in place in the classroom. Send your child to school with some preferred activities as well. Be sure to communicate with the teacher what types of situations your child is very successful in, and what types of situations may lead to more challenging behavior from your child. Also be sure to listen to the teacher and work with them on the goals selected for your child at home.

These are just some pieces of advice on helping your child have a successful transition back to school. Not all of these tips will be appropriate for all children, but should be useful for helping make the transition as seamless as possible.

Thank you Steven W. Payne, Ph.D., BCBA-D and Melmark for today’s guest post.


  1. ms27742sammyjune says:

    Thank you for the reminder to let the teacher know what situations could trigger challenging behavior. It seems so common sense but in the rush to make the list for the teacher – that is one area I left out!!