Why autistic children hate the end of the school year and how to help

28 June 2017

Dear friend,

There is one week left until the end of school or 5 get ups. I keep reading similar statements on teacher friends status updates. It is the ultimate countdown to freedom, six weeks of fun, lying around in your PJs for as long as you like and if you are lucky a sunny, holiday thrown in too. Most non teachers will make a tongue in cheek comment about wishing they had a job like ours. (You're never there, must be really hard having six weeks a year free etc) But then again not many people would swap, especially not in todays ever changing, stressful, badly paid, poorly valued, world of teaching.

The end of term for teachers is a strange affair. You say goodbye to a class that you've grown to love over the year, there is a sense of loss but also pride at how far they've come, the progress they've made academically and socially and of course the role that you have played in that. You are also caught up in this busy world of report writing, sports days, end of year musicals, trips, parties, planning for next year etc so there isn't much time for mourning the loss of your little darlings or reflecting on the year together. The countdown begins to accelerate and before you know it, it is the last week, the last day, the last lesson and the children leave. You stand in your empty, bare classroom, exhausted but happy and relieved. You made it!

But, the end of the year isn't a party for everyone...

The end of the school year can be a nightmare for autistic children.  There is a degree of safety in the routine of the school day, in the normality, in being with friends. But at the end of the year everything is different.

From the first group (reception in UK) the big lad knew the routine. When he went into class on the morning he would check the visual timetable and tell the teacher if she had got something wrong. He knew exactly what happened on each day. If you asked; What did you do at school today? He would answer, talking in the ring, read books, played outside, work, story then home. Any changes had to be carefully explained beforehand to avoid meltdown. He still needs this security and his amazing support assistant spends time every morning going through what will happen during the day but also what he will be expected to do, there are no surprises and that way the stress is taken away, he can relax and enjoy school.

At the end of the year this becomes harder. There are changes in routine and schedule. There are new experiences, you are expected to do things with other people, classes, teachers, mum helpers etc and the social expectations are huge! It is summer, it is warm, you are wearing new clothes so you feel different too. The stress starts to build...

Then the class has a meet and greet with a new teacher s/he seems nice but different, the class room is different. Where will you sit, who with, will you know where things are, how do the chairs feel, how does his/her voice sound, does he get cross easily?

Too much change! Meltdown...

At the end of the school year most parents are relaxing bed times and allowing children to play out longer, to enjoy the summer weather. Not us! If anything we are tightening control.

Ways to make the transition easier:

Before school ends
  • Child to meet with the new teacher 1-1 
  • Child + assistant to visit the class to become familiar with the new surroundings 
  • Child + assistant sit in on a lesson or two 
  • Child + Parents discuss the transition:  Ask what they are most worried about
  • Parents meet with the new teacher to discuss any potential problems/issues or parents meet with the old & new teachers together to put a plan in place and make a brief schedule for the first day
  • Be positive! 
  • Let them know it is natural to feel apprehensive
  • Stick to routines at home 
Week before school
  • Keep the days before the transition calm and positive - Don't do too much!
  • Discuss what will happen - Go through schedule for the first day
  • Be positive
  • Stick to the bedtime routine - make sure they are well rested
On the day
  • Arrange to go into work later so you can bring them to school
  • Be organised - make sure you have all school materials, gym things, clothes ready 
  • Be on time!

 Let the countdown begin. Bring it on end of term, we are ready, I hope you are too!

Have a great summer!

Post revised June 2017

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