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“Back to school”

If that phrase is enough to send shivers down your spine, you might be parenting a neurodivergent child.

And if that’s you, friend, you’re in the right place.

The reality is, while a lot of parents LOVE back to school because it feels like a “break” after a whole summer with the kids, for a lot of neurofamilies it can feel like anything but…

Summer can be a relatively chill time for families like ours because our kids are home in their safe space with a pretty low-demand environment where we can accommodate them pretty easily.

Then they go back to school.

Which often means back to demands.

Back to homework.

Back to loud bells, overwhelming smells, bullying kids, and so much more.

To avoid the stress as much as possible, I’m pulling back the curtain from one of my recent coaching calls and sharing three practical steps you can take to help your neurodivergent child transition back to school.

Kid stands on a road holding a large blue backpack. Text reads "neurodivergent friendly back to school transition tips"

3 Steps to Help Your Neurodivergent Child Transition Back to School

If we haven’t met yet, hey friend, I’m Kaylene!

I’m an Autistic advocate and parent coach, and I empower parents of neurodivergent kids to develop the unique flavor of parenting strategies that actually work for your neurodivergent child, your values, and your entire neurofamily.

If you’re interested in mapping out the specific strategies that will actually work for your unique child and your specific situation, I’d love to invite you to a free 1:1 strategy session with me!

Click here to book your strategy session!

3 Neurodivergent-Friendly Back to School Transition Tips

Here’s the thing. In recent coaching calls my clients have been bringing up back-to-school concerns a lot…

How can they help prepare their kids for the massive transition headed their way?

How can they prepare themselves for battles over accommodations and endless IEP headaches?

How can they get their teens to wake up in the morning after being up all night playing video games all summer?

So in a recent coaching call, I gave a mini-training for my clients on how to help our neurodivergent kids transition back to school, and I’m sharing that training here with you!

Step One: Identify the Biggest Struggle

So the first thing to do is think about and identify your biggest struggle with the transition back to school.

Because when we look at it as “the back-to-school transition is so hard”, that’s a big ass problem, and it’s pretty terrifying.

Also, there’s no way to solve back to school.

It’s not a solvable problem unless you’re going to not go back to school and you’re just going to be in summer mode forever.

I guess that’s what unschoolers do, so it’s technically an option…

But for most of us, “back to school” is not really solvable.

Instead, zoom in to what you are most worried about or what has been the biggest issue in the past for your kids.

That will help you narrow it down to a solvable problem, or at least one you can attempt to solve.

Some examples might be:

  • waking up in the morning
  • not knowing the kids at school
  • school lunches
  • participating in class
  • not knowing the way around the building

So you want to get really clear on what the specific issue is, instead of broadening to “back to school sucks”.

Step Two: Prep Ahead of Time

Then we want to prep ahead of time as much as we can for the struggle we’ve identified.

You want to manufacture that scenario or do some kind of practice runs to get more comfortable before school starts.

The most obvious—and almost all families attempt to do a version of this—is going to bed and waking up on time a few weeks before school actually starts.

This lets you change your sleep schedule gradually, instead of the immediate shock to your child’s system.

(Especially if they’ve been staying up until 4 AM playing video games all summer… #NoJudgment)

If your child’s biggest concern is not knowing the kids, maybe you can meet up with some of the kids from the new school before school starts.

That way your kids aren’t walking in on day one trying to introduce themselves, while also navigating a brand new school.

Another opportunity might be doing a school tour during summer if they’re really nervous about not knowing their way around their new school building.

Taking the thing that they’re worried about, and manufacturing the opportunity to practice before school starts is going to help them prepare as much as possible.

This is so much better than waiting until school starts and you have all the added pressures of school.

Because let’s be real, our kids struggle doesn’t exist in a vacuum.

Our kid that’s really nervous about making friends, is also going to have

  • teachers putting demands on them
  • food that they’re not used to
  • the super loud bells
  • all of the homework

There are a ton of pressures that come with school, so when we can practice the thing they’re worried about most ahead of all of those extra pressures, they’ll be more ready to handle it when you add in all the other stuff.

Step Three: Slow Down the Transition

The final strategy for helping your neurodivergent child transition back to school is slowing the transition down as much as possible.

And I’ll be honest, this one is not always easy because our school system is designed to go from zero to sixty in most cases.

Which is mind-boggling because they don’t do this to teachers…

They ease teachers in and out of school but throw our kids in full force, which just blows my mind. Anyway…

Many of our kids have IEPs or accommodations that we fight for in the school system so look at advocating for strategies to ease between summer and school.

First, think about what you can do on the summer side of the equation because you tend to have more control here.

One example might be going through the entire school morning routine, even driving to the school parking lot, for the week before school starts so that your kids have more time to get used to the “new normal”.

The school side of the transition is going to take some serious advocacy.

Consider strategies like doing a half week, half days, or only certain class periods for that first week of school.

As an alternative, ask about what plans they have in place for students who are in the first grade offered at that school (for example kindergarteners at the elementary school or freshmen at the high school).

Those programs are designed to help students transition to a new environment, so consider asking if your child can participate even if they aren’t in the targeted grade level.

These strategies are all designed to slow things down and kind of give their brain and body a chance to catch up to the massive transition that we’re asking our kids to do.

Text reads: Neurodivergent-Friendly Back to School Tips. Step One: Narrow the Struggle "Back to School" is too big, so narrow down to the specific struggle you're most worried about. Step Two: Prep Ahead of Time Prepare as much ahead of time by practicing or creating opportunities to experience the "new" thing before go time. Step Three: Slow the Transition On both the summer side and the school side, slow down the transition to give brains and bodies a chance to catch up.

So those are the three strategies to help your neurodivergent child transition back to school…

  • Narrow it down to one actual struggle because “back to school” is way too big.
  • Then take that small struggle you’ve identified and practice it ahead of time.
  • Finally slow the transition down as much as possible, both on the summer side and the school side.

And don’t forget, you don’t have to do this alone. If you want to create a back-to-school strategy plan with you one-on-one, click here to book a strategy call!

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