Transitioning back to school after an extended time away

Returning to school after any long gap is a big change for children and can be daunting. It is especially difficult at present with the added COVID- 19 restrictions. Settling into the school routine, especially if there are new rules, changes to the classroom  or other unfamiliar things or events can be a source of stress for all children including autistic children. Here are “Six Rs for returning to school” which may help to make the transition back to school a bit easier. 

Six Rs for returning to school

    1. Research: Prior to starting school getting in touch with parents to ask what their child needs to facilitate the change and gather a brief idea of any specific requirement of each child can be helpful. It may also be useful to discuss how the lockdown has affected their child and if they have experienced any changes in their life or routine such as a loss of a loved one or a fear of safety with the virus and take these into account when dealing with the child. Your school may already have something like this. If not, here is a template for a form that you can circulate to parents.
    1. Re-introduce the children to the school and classroom setting: To ease some of the worries about going back to school it may be useful to remind children of what it will look like and to highlight any changes. Sending videos to welcome the students and show them their classroom, their teacher, Special Needs Assistants, the toys and activities, or the seating plan may give them an idea of what to expect.  It may also be useful to discuss some of the activities planned for their first week such as games or art or sport that encourage them to be excited for school. There are lots of ways that we can present this information but we recommend using videos, photographs and other modes that can be referred to again and again.  Here’s why.
      Here are some tips to take into account when recording your video.
    1. Ready: In order to prepare children for getting back to school, send relevant worksheets or social stories via post or email for the children to fill out. For older children or teenagers some tips for the return to school might be useful.


    1. Remind children of the class rules: Where possible and appropriate, provide the children with an introduction to the main classroom and appropriate school behaviour. This will prepare children for how they should behave in school which may be different to how they may behave at home. For older children and those with strong verbal skills, this might be a poster as well as a verbal reminder. For younger children and those with moderate verbal skills this could be conducted in a fun way like through songs, a puppet show, a quiz, a social story, worksheets or video (An example).
      Here are some useful resources: Classroom rules template 
    1. Routine: circulating the class timetable will help children prepare to get into a routine and reduce the possibility of being overwhelmed when returning to school. This timetable could highlight break and lunch times at school (Parents might even want to begin a routine of eating at these times in the run up to starting school). It could also leave space for parents to add activities that the child will complete before (e.g. getting up, getting dressed, having breakfast, travelling to school) and after school.
      Here are some useful resources: Routine (including a timetable) & Social story.
  1. Reduce anxiety. Initial lesson plans should allow plenty of time to allow the children to reacclimatise before returning to a full timetable.  Wellbeing is very important at this time. Remember that routine and predictability will reduce anxiety.
    Take a look at our wellbeing resources here.

Resources referred to in this section: