Back to School: How To Ease Into This Transition


By Elanor Neff, M.S., BCBA

Back to school time is right around the corner (maybe for some it has already started)! With so many changes and schedule shifts, it’s no wonder why this tends to be a stressful time for parents, children, and teachers alike. For a parent who has a child with special needs, these changes are often intensified leading parents to experience more stress. Here are 5 suggestions to help ease the tension!

1.   Be Prepared

Seems like an obvious one, right? But what really does it mean to be prepared? You have the book bag, you’ve bought the box of Kleenex, the extra pencils and pad of paper, and you even managed to get a new pair of shoes! These things are important but there are other ways to be prepared, especially during week one. You might even consider placing a dry-eraser board somewhere visible (maybe on the refrigerator) that has a checklist of the items that need to be completed. Keep reading to learn more ways to be prepared!

2.   Social Stories

You might consider creating a social story about the first day of school. Take pictures of the new school and ask the teacher to send you a picture of themselves and their classroom. During orientation, use picture supports to walk your child through what a school day will look like. Create a visual checklist of what will happen the first couple of days of school. Remember to add “?” mark icons because there are (of course) going to be unknowns (e.g., fire drills, change of class rooms). Scheduling in the “unknowns” helps to teach flexibility to your child. 

3.   Create A Routine

Children thrive off structure and routine; same is true for a child with ASD (even if you think they do not notice). Create a morning routine for yourself, your child, and any other children in the house. Again, use the visual supports to help create a checklist for morning activities (e.g., breakfast, brushing teeth, watching favorite tv show). A good strategy for using visual supports is to include a preferred activity towards the end of the list. It helps to motivate the child to complete the harder, not-so-preferred tasks. *If you don’t have a ton of time, you can look online for pre-made schedules and even electronic ones, too!

4.   Practice The Routine 

Routines are great and are very helpful, but they only become this way once they have been established as a routine! This means to practice the routine (multiple times) prior to the first day of school. Work out the kinks, adjust things according to the problem areas, and time how long it takes to complete the routine (maybe you need to start the day earlier if necessary).

5.   Stay Calm

My last tip is to stay calm and model the behavior you want your child to engage in.  If you show anxious like behaviors (e.g., rushing around, shouting) then chances are your child will notice that. Slowing down your pace helps to stay more focused and calm which in turn can help to reduce the stress level. Go slow, use the visual supports to help guide your instructions, help your child when needed, use reinforcers, and most of all enjoy the role you get to play in your child’s first day of school!

While the first day of school is often associated with a stressful time, be hopeful for the new skills your child is going to learn!  The above are just a few skills CSERV clinicians like myself practice and teach caregivers how to implement themselves throughout our telehealth sessions.  For more information on how to obtain ABA therapy through videoconferencing please contact us at 

Want to learn more?

Join us for a FREE webinar on the topic of transitioning back to school and how ABA tools can help. Click here to learn more and to reserve your spot!


Thurs., Sept. 7 @


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