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First Days of School for Your Child with Autism

By September 3, 2009

Every parent -- and every kid -- gets the jitters on the first day of school.  For parents of kids with autism -- and the kids, too -- those jitters can become the shakes!

Will the school really fulfill those IEP goals you hammered out with so much pain and frustration last spring?  Will your child adjust to a new setting, with new rules and new expectations?  Will some rotten schoolmate decide your child is the perfect target for bullying?  What if...???

So ...  how is it going for you and your child?  Is the school year starting out well or poorly?  What are your concerns and joys?   Share your thoughts!

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September 3, 2009 at 5:28 pm
(1) Sandy says:

Great topic. I did have the shakes, last year was not so good. Not really school-wise, but peer bullying and the school being too relaxed on what they do. Sure enough the first day on the bus ride home, the boy with the inappropriate sexual talk did it again but this time my son told him to stop saying those things. In school is going well for my son, who started school August 31st. So far the IEP is being upheld right down to the high lighting of work. As for peers, 2 of the boys in class who picked on my son are still in class this year but so far all is going well and in fact, one of the boys helped my son put a vest on during Phy-ed, which my son noticed greatly enough to tell me how shocked he was. The only bad thing about meaner kids being nice on a particular day, is a kid like my now thinks they’re best friends. I am hoping the 2 boys do not continue this year what they did last year, I can only cross my fingers and toes.

Now you still home school? Do you find you’re really glad not to have to deal with all these things or are there issues you deal with just the same?

September 3, 2009 at 5:40 pm
(2) autism says:

Fabulous news, Sandy!

We are still homeschooling, but this year Tom will be with a homeschooling mom who actually runs a sort of “homeschool school” two days a week. We start next week, so can’t say how it’s going YET — but she’s great, and knows Tom well, so I’m not especially worried. He’ll also be doing speech therapy, math tutoring, clarinet, jazz ensemble, homeschool gym AND bowling!! Whew!

The biggest challenges, thank goodness, are NOT dealing with red tape, useless aides, stubborn administrators or unprepared teachers. Instead, we get to focus on Tom’s actual challenges.

So… our biggest focuses this year will be on independent reading/learning skills, basic math, and social/conversation skills. We’ll worry less about selection and development of academic content, and more on getting him up to speed in terms of executive function and certain life skills such as telling time, thinking ahead, planning, etc. He SEEMS to be ready for it… I hope.

Our big hope is to get him ready for a tiny Montessori middle school; we’re “holding him back” a year with fingers crossed that he can get to the place where it works for him and them next fall.

BTW, he’s now able to ride a bike, which is huge, and he’s taken up sax as well as clarinet. He’ll probably never be “typical” by any means, but his strengths are very real.


September 3, 2009 at 5:58 pm
(3) Amy says:

My 3.5 year old child, who was diagnosed with PDD-NOS last year, is having a rough start going back to his spec. ed. preschool program. Last year, his behavior started to take a turn for the worse and I attributed it to the addition of potty training in his routines.

Now that we are back in school is has decreased even more. It’s only been 7 days, but every day we have a note from school about screaming, running out of the room and/or away from the teachers, throwing crayons or toys, etc.

He starts daycare next week and I worry about that addition to his routine as well. My husband and I are at a loss at how to deliver meaningful consequences at home for his behavior based on his level of receptive speech (if that makes since) since we don’t see him until 3 hours after he’s out of school.

September 3, 2009 at 6:25 pm
(4) Sandy says:

You know, I loved summer. The stress was way lower and the only issue I ever have is my kid wanting to be like my nephew whose 2 years older than him. Once school starts, it’s not so much the teachers I have problems with but the peers themselves and the bus. I dread all those added people into our lives and the issues they cause for us. My 10 year old is also going through puberty, has acne too so back to school he is and the only one his age going through this.

Do you think Tom will do well with the new transition to home schooling with some one else? Do you take him for band lessons where? Like privately? I might consider that since where my son goes is a Charter and those band and such things are just starting to be intro’d to the school. The school offers a lot on sports but my son is not a sport kind of kid, even for bowling. I’m going to focus more on fundamental’s of basic academics learned first, like multiplying and dividing before going to pre algebra which really throws my kid for a loop. He’s really good with numbers and always has been, but Saxton math is just to many concepts all on one page.

Yea for the bike riding! Tom has got to be proud of that! I remember when mine learned, he was 7 or 8. We tried no training wheels, one training but that feet off the ground for him was always an issue. One day he got right on it and off he went as if he always rode a bike :) We have a huge rock bank off our driveway, and here he came really fast and rode right off, on purpose. Flattened him right out. A 2 wheeler and my kid turned outs to be very scary!

I cant wait to hear about the Montessori middle school and how your son does.

September 3, 2009 at 6:33 pm
(5) Sandy says:

Amy~ I can so relate to that age. They figured once he started all this, they’d wear him out and he’d sleep all night. Ha! They were wrong. My son started special ed at age 3, and then the next year pre k. Maybe school and day care needs to have their own consequences. When my child was that age, in no way could I address the behavior he had else where and I had a hard time at home find a consequence as well. That’s really a tough age and it’s not only a receptive language thing, it’s really also a combo of memory and the finding a way for the child to learn good from bad behavior. Some people do a reward system, that never worked for my kid and still doesn’t. He was instant reward kid LOL! His focus was only getting the reward but not performing the task to get it. I really hope you have a good year and find what works for your child. I will say, once my child started kindergarten did I even attempt to address behavior at school at home and have him accountable. 3.5 might be just too young for that yet.

September 3, 2009 at 7:44 pm
(6) autism says:

Amy – don’t know if this helps, but ages 3-5 were very tough for Tom, and things have improved radically. At that age he used to indiscrimately whack old ladies and crying babies, bolt out of the room, and melt down when asked to take part in anything!

Things got better.

Re discipline you’re right: it has to occur on the spot, not three hours later (for any preschooler!). You may be able to work out a system with the teachers that allows them to implement a simple, brief consequence that doesn’t disrupt the rest of the class too much.

Good luck!


September 3, 2009 at 11:16 pm
(7) IQ says:

We’ve decided to homeschool our 6-year old son this year. He is ‘high functioning’ and reading at a 9th grade level but was having a lot of trouble last year with all of the rules necessary to function in a big school system and with peer interactions.

We are adopting ‘unschooling’ as our approach to homeschooling and hope to enroll him in a Sudbury School next year. Both of these choices are rather unstructured. I doubt myself when I hear the prevailing view that in order for kids on the spectrum to learn, they must do so in a highly structured way. I really want to understand the reasoning so that I can make a more informed decision about whether these approaches are working for my son. Can you share what you know or point me to some sources?

September 3, 2009 at 11:33 pm
(8) autism says:

I’m not a big unschooling fan, but that’s mostly because I’m a linear, logical thinker. It’s also because Tom, if left to his own devices, will sit on the couch and read… then pet the cat… then make up stories with legos… then repeat. In other words, I don’t think he’s self-motivated enough for unschooling — no idea if that’s about autism or about being Tom!

I do personally think most people do need structure in their lives,and kids with autism tend to need more.

That said, I think the choice of homeschooling style is totally personal (your choice and making sure your choice suits your child’s needs). And it’s not so easy to tell whether your child needs something different! I find that people outside of my family are often better at motivating Tom than we are, so we do a lot of taking outside classes, field trips, etc.

IMHO,there are a lot of myths about “all” children with autism. “All” children with autism are NOT visual learners, or brilliant mathematicians, or antisocial, or into Japanese manga, or lousy writers.

I’d say follow your bliss — so long as your son is thriving!


September 3, 2009 at 11:33 pm
(9) Sandy says:

I’m sure Lisa will have some resources on that structure. Part of it has to do with a child with autism and unpredictability, unable to predict what’s coming next. Some what part of that transitional issue many kids with autism have as well. Observing my child only, it’s clear when routine and structure wasn’t there, he fell apart and his functioning level dwindled. A goal for many is lessoning that need for structure, and I have found RDI (relationship development intervention) helped to achieve this with my son. There was no way to totally remove structure cold turkey, that would had been miserable mainly for my son. That’s how I knew his great need for structure. We started to ease my son into RDI when he was 4 and some years later although less structure is required, he still thrives when he does have structure than when he doesn’t. I can say for schooling that includes peers, they factor in and then structure is needed for him to be successful in his class setting. I can get away with less structure at home than the school ever could, but then I don’t have a bunch of peers at home, he’s the only child. My son does learn best by repetition, which sort of is structure as well. I’m not so sure structure and routine is all such a bad thing. Many people autism or not rely on structure and the world is full of it. It just so happens a kid like mine takes that need for structure to the extreme.
I think your child will show if the setting is right for him or not and you never know, it might be the best change for him.

September 4, 2009 at 12:06 pm
(10) IQ says:

Thank you both for your thoughts and insights. I really appreciate it.

September 4, 2009 at 1:30 pm
(11) Leila says:

I’m very nervous but excited at the same time, because it’s his first year in school, so it might turn out to be good. He’s very excited and can’t wait til Tuesday.

September 4, 2009 at 6:39 pm
(12) Liz says:

We have also chosen to homeschool our 6 year old this year. She’s falls at the more severe end of the spectrum and the only “appropriate” option for her in the public school system was a self contained autism class where, unfortunately, all the other students are non-verbal and highly aggressive (and range in age from 6-12). We felt this would be a huge mistake since she has begun to speak over the last year (I never knew I could be this excited about 3 word sentances from a 6 year old!!) and her behaviour issues have decreased significantly.
I don’t know all the homeschool lingo yet but I think we are taking more of the “eclectic” approach. Our daughter definitely responds best in a highly structured environment (we use a lot of visual schedules) but her development is so splintered that her actual program is going to be… interesting. We’re using a combination of ABA, Foortime and RDI methods (sounds like a strange combo but it works really well for her)and we’ll adjust the balance of each depending on what we are trying to teach. As far as actual curriculum, it is also kind of a mixed bag of things that I got on recommendation. I expect there will be a lot of adjusting/modifying, things we’ll add and things we’ll scrap as the year goes on.
I’m both very nervous (got those shakes) and excited about it all! For us this really seems like the right decision and I’m very happy that I won’t be sitting by the phone again this year waiting for the “weekly call”. Now to find some way to pay for the house-keeper!

September 4, 2009 at 7:35 pm
(13) autism says:

Liz – actually, combining approaches makes a lot of sense to me. Flootimey back-and-forth communication is great for some kinds of learning; ABA (that is, do it this way because that’s how it’s done) works well in other contexts.

Personally, we do a lot of informal back and forth during nature hikes, car trips, discussion of books, etc. — but math and music are much are directive.

I think it’s that way for every kid, BTW. They may not call it “floortime” or “ABA,” but no mom says “do whatever you want” when it comes to things like being sure to feed a pet, complete a project or memorize multiplication tables.

IMHO, “discipline” is about much more than behavior: it’s about developing habits that last a lifetime (or don’t lol!).


September 6, 2009 at 9:17 am
(14) Paula says:

My 6 year old son started first grade this year! Yes, I was anxious about it, but he LOVES school and had been asking me repeatedly when he could go back (even though he had summer school as part of ESY!). Xander is in a special needs classroom and mainstreamed for “specials” like music, gym, etc. Last year, he couldn’t tolerate music class much due to the noise of the other kids singing (or as he says “screaming”), but really enjoyed gym as he is such an active boy.

This year sounds promising, as he has made a lot of progress since last year. He has an awesome special ed teacher who all the kids love (she makes popcorn every Wednesday for the kids!) and now a teacher’s aide as well, along with the OT and ST. I am grateful that he is in such a good public school with teachers and staff who really care about the kids, from the principal down to the bus drivers.

September 6, 2009 at 9:59 am
(15) Paula says:

Sorry to double post, but I just read Sandy’s first post again. Bullying is my #1 fear when it comes to my son and school! Last year, when he started kindergarten I worried myself sick about kids being mean to him on the bus. I was reassured that the school has a no tolerance policy when it comes to stuff like that, but I know how kids can be to kids who are seen as “different” than themselves.

Last year, we didn’t have any problem. My son takes the regular bus and sits right across from the bus driver. He has to be harnessed in with a special seat belt so he doesn’t get up and run around on the bus. Because of this, he doesn’t have any kids that sit with him (although a few girls have offered because they think he’s so cute!) So, yes, the kids are aware that he has special needs but seem to be respectful, at least in his elementary school.

I know that things could change as he gets older, especially as he enters middle school or high school. The good thing is, my child is not shy at all (like I was) and not afraid to defend himself if need be (he just doesn’t get boundaries).

September 6, 2009 at 11:47 am
(16) Sandy says:

The bullying didn’t start until 3rd grade for us, and the school was rather slack about what they did so in the area’s it happened, in the IEP I had it covered. The issue I was having is no one seeing it, so zero tolerance is hardly any good when there’s a flaw a teacher has to see it. They talk to each child, one says it happened, the other denies it. Since my son transitions with peers to different class rooms, if he told one teacher, the next teacher had no clue, and then no one acknowledged or showed my son that when he reported something, that any body cared so his words means nothing and the was no data collecting for the goal of him speaking up for himself.

What I did was have a Para in the hall during class transitions. The idea is just the presence of an adult a kid wont do something as easily. I have a running folder going to each class so if my son reports something, each teacher writes it down, each teacher reads it when he enters the class and it’s sent home to me daily. I have a Para at Phy-ed (turns out last year 2 same kids told on my kid for things he didn’t do and the Phy-ed teacher told no one and for some odd reason didn’t know my kid was special ed. Have all teachers at IEP meetings) My son now goes to the bathroom at the nurses office when he requests to go during class since there isn’t an adult who can monitor in the bathrooms, where reports were being made. Where there wasn’t an adult, there now is. The interesting thing for us is these peers have been in my sons class for now the 4th year. The first 2 years all was well then the 3rd year, I think something at home happened with the one boy, like a divorce and all of a sudden, he’s mean to my kid and enlisted the help of another peer to double tag my kid.

Bullying does bother me, but it would no matter if my kid had autism or he didn’t. Kids generally are mean beings and it was bound to happen at some point and it’s unrealist to think every kid is nice also, at times my kids behavior can seem like bullying, too. In Kindergarten waiting in line to go into the school, my kid was into rhyming and he did rhyme everything and rhymed a peers name. The mother of that child considered it name calling and the Para told him to stop bla bla. Ended up the Para’s were sent to more training per that incident after I complained as to how it was handled. So it’s an on-going modeling both ways. When home schooling, no one has to worry about bullying or mean kids or how your own disabled kids are perceived by others, but at the same time as my kid grows up, not everyone is going to be nice and he does need to learn to recognize these things within people, and what better way than a mean kid at school? The modeling is actually perfect in a funny/ not so funny sort of way.

An IEP can add further safe guards for a kid who is not having a good time with peers, and the times when kids would pick on others, add more adults. The neat thing, but also sad, is how excited my son was to go to school even though all last year he wanted a new school. He gives second chances and one never knows, he could become good friends with those meanies!

September 7, 2009 at 3:30 pm
(17) Katherine Chapman says:

I was prepared for the things that went wrong so that was the good part.
i do feel that because the first week was so crazy it really got the attention of his teachers.
It got them to look over his IEP documents and give the help he was suppose to receive.
I feel the first week set the stage for a great year in a regular school with his RSP program?

September 8, 2009 at 8:27 am
(18) Dorothy says:

Does anyone have a child that doesn’t like to wear anything with buttons? Or does your son tell you he is bored?

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