By Ashleigh Evans, MS, BCBA
Children with autism and other neurodivergence commonly struggle with transitions. The shift from summer to the start of a new school year is one of the most challenging transitions. Getting back into a new routine is not easy and often requires support and patience through these changes. Behavior analysts play a vital role in helping these children navigate the back-to-school season. Let’s review four strategies you can try to make for a successful back-to-school transition for your clients.
Open communication between the ABA and school teams can help smooth the transition. Introduce yourself to your client’s teacher and support staff, communicating your desire to collaborate for your shared learner’s best interests. Use this as an opportunity to also share and celebrate your client’s growth during the summer. Share mastered skills that your client achieved over the summer and any new concerns to help the school team gain an updated picture of their current skills and behaviors.
Take a look through your client’s goals and progress made. The ultimate goal of ABA is to prepare our learners for optimal functioning in the least restrictive environments. Consider updating goals to encourage the development of skills that will help them be more successful at school. If they attended school last year, review their IEP and reflect on areas they struggled with in the previous year.
One area to consider is your learner’s self-advocacy skills. Do they have the necessary skills to express their needs and desires in a manner that school staff can understand? Do they have the ability to communicate when something is uncomfortable, they need a break, or someone is bothering them? These skills are all critical for success in school and onward. Ensure goals are in place to teach these skills, if not already mastered.
During times of major transitions, parents and caregivers may also struggle to navigate the routine shifts that often come with behavioral changes in their child. Empower your client’s parents to support their child through this shift by enhancing caregiver training. If clinically appropriate and feasible, increase caregiver training sessions before and for the first few weeks after the school year starts. Providing additional support can set everyone up for success.
Consider the antecedent strategies you can implement to help your client better cope with the new routines and expectations. Visual supports, such as a visual schedule with the child’s morning routine or daily schedule, can help your client envision what comes next, making it easier for them to get into the swing of things. If your client enjoys social stories, you can create one to review with them (or have parents read it to them) to familiarize them with what to expect. Make sure it’s personalized and unique to them with components such as their teacher’s name and picture.
The back-to-school season can be a stressful time for children and their families. However, with caregiver planning and support, behavior analysts can help make this process significantly easier. Help your families navigate change and prepare for a year of success at school by trying the aforementioned strategies. Each client is unique, so as always, tailor your approach to their particular needs and preferences.
About the Author
Ashleigh Evans, MS, is a Board Certified Behavior Analyst. She has been practicing in the behavior analysis field for over 13 years and opened her own independent practice in early 2022. Her experience has been vast across different age groups, diagnoses, and needs. She is passionate about improving the field through education, reformative action, and better supervisory practices, leading her to create content and resources for families and ABA professionals which can be found on her website, https://www.abaresourcecenter.com/.