If your child is starting school for the first time, make use of some of the many wonderful books available for typically developing youngsters that introduce the expectations surrounding kindergarten or preschool. You can find a selection of such books in the About.com Guide to Children's Books article, Best Children's Picture Books About Starting School. Read your favorites together, not once but many times. If your child with autism is verbal, ask him or her fill in blanks as you read along; rhyming books are a great way to help children remember what they've heard.
If your child is starting or returning to school, visit the school and tour each room. Don't forget the gym, the cafeteria, even the bathroom. Take photos of every part of your tour, starting with the area where buses arrive, including the front entrance, the playground, the lockers, and so forth. If you can, meet your child's teacher or teachers, and take photos of them as well. If your child will cooperate, take photos of your child in each setting. When you get home, put the photos in order so that you have a visual "book" you can review every day.
Ask the school to provide you with a daily schedule of your child's activities. If you can, interview the principal or teachers to find out all you can about the process your child will go through as he or she moves through the day. Will there be bells? Are they loud? Will your child eat lunch early or late? Where will he sit? Use the information to put together a visual schedule for your child that you can review along with your photo book.
Ask for any information you can collect about expectations that will be placed on your child that might not have been a concern in past years. Will he or she need to open a combination lock on a locker? Bring in or change into gym clothes? If so, consider buying and practicing with these new items so that your child is proficient and comfortable before the first day of school.
Check to find out whether any of last year's classmates will be in your child's class this year. If so, see if you can find photos of those friends. It may even be possible to get together with one or two such classmates before the start of school.
Practice as much of the school experience as you can before the start of the school year. While the school yard is empty, practice drop-offs or pickups. Explore the playground, and practice waiting in line, swinging, and climbing. At home, practice sitting at a desk, raising a hand before speaking, standing in line, eating from a lunch box, and listening to and responding to the start-of-class bell.
In an ideal world, your child will be so well prepared for school that ordinary activities and transitions are easy for him. That way, she'll have physical and emotional energy to spare for the challenges of social interaction and -- of course -- learning! test