Transitions can be tricky for all of us. I was not looking forward to hearing my alarm at 5:30am this morning in order to head back to work after 12 days of a more relaxed schedule.
Guess what happened?
I was not at all happy to hear that alarm. It was hard to get up with no daylight coming through the window and to feel the cold floor beneath my feet. However, once moving, it did become a little better.
I knew it was going to be difficult, so I did a little planning ahead. I thought about what was going to be challenging and I pro-actively did some things to make it easier and even, slightly, enjoyable. I used the timer feature on my coffee pot to make sure I had a hot cup of coffee waiting for me. (This is a big motivator for me!) I also picked out my clothes the night before and had my lunch prepared and waiting in the fridge. I also picked out a particular podcast episode to listen to on my drive to work. This made the morning less chaotic and I built in some things that I knew I could look forward to. You can use these same strategies to help your child transition back to school after a break.
STRATEGIES FOR TRANSITIONING BACK TO SCHOOL
1. Think about the specific, possible problem spots.
Do you think it will be difficult for your child to wake up early?
Will it be a problem getting dressed for school? Or eating breakfast?
Is there a certain part of school that is challenging?
Once you have identified the problem(s), can you do some steps ahead of time that will help? For example, let your child pick out their clothes the day before or be prepared to make their favorite food for breakfast. Hey, chicken nuggets provide some protein!
2. Let there be something to look forward to in the morning.
This can be the special treat of chicken nuggets for breakfast, or maybe bringing something with them to school that they would be excited to show their teacher. (Of course, check with the teacher first about this!) The object can also help as a transition item.
3. Show, don't just tell, about what to expect and when.
A calendar or a schedule -- even one just written on a dry erase board or piece of paper -- can be extremely helpful in showing what to expect.
4. Use a personalized, Social Story™.
This can do absolute wonders if written and used correctly. The key to it being effective, is making sure it is personalized and meets your child's individual needs.
Social Stories™ is an evidence-based practice developed by Carol Gray. To learn more information, out the website here; it is filled with lots of great information.
Or, keep reading and I will teach you what you need to know to write your own Social Stories™.
HOW TO WRITE A SOCIAL STORY™ THAT WORKS
A Social Story™ is used to provide accurate information to people with autism. It can be used across a variety of ages and developmental levels. It uses words and pictures geared toward the needs of the individual. I can be multiple pages with simple sentences & pictures, or paragraph style. A Social Story describes a situation (going back to school), skill (using the toilet), or concept (sharing).
Below is a Social Story™ I created for an 8 year old. This boy is a strong reader and enjoys Legos and anything to do with Minions.
Here are some guidelines to follow when writing a Social Story™:
The story should have one goal.
It's tempting to try to tackle all the possible potholes, but don't do it. It won't work. The story above is focusing on the challenge of waking up early and feeling tired after winter break. The mom is also concerned about her son's use of bad language at school, but that is addressed in a separate Social Story™.
Understand your child's needs, their perspective and interests.
Knowing what specifically troubles your child will help you with choosing the goal, and the main idea, of the Social Story™.
Write the story in first-person.
First-person provides the individual's voice. It helps to internalize the information.
The story should answer Who, What, Where, When, How and Why.
The purpose of a Social Story™ is to give factual information. A sentence that could be added to the story above is, "School starts at 8:15am. I need to wake up early so I don't miss the bus." This answers the why for getting up early.
Use mainly descriptive sentences and some coaching sentences.
The bulk of the story should use descriptive sentences (facts), some perspective-taking sentences ("I don't like getting up early. I feel very tired."), and some coaching sentences ("If I am tired, I can close my eyes on the bus.").
The story should have a patient and encouraging tone.
It should never be shaming, full of demands or what-not-to-do's. I can't tell you the number of Social Stories I've read that go wrong right from the start.
"No pushing." Instead, "I can try to keep my hands to myself."
"Screaming is never allowed." Instead, "If I'm mad, I can stomp my foot."
Try to state what the expected behavior is, rather what not to do. Along with facts, the Social Story™ should acknowledge the individual's perspective, validate their feelings, and foster a sense of support.
HOW TO USE A SOCIAL STORY™
Introduce & read the story when your child is in a calm or neutral state. It's best to begin reading the story well in advance of the activity, however if that's not possible just start when you can. Repetition is good. Read the story to your child multiple times throughout the day (when it would make sense). For the story I wrote for the 8 year old boy, his mom began reading it to him 3 days before the start of school. She planned on reading it to him at dinner the night before, and then again after his bath before bed.
Never use the story as a punishment. So, if you have a Social Story about using walking feet in the grocery store and your daughter was running -- you do not want to use the story directly after pointing out what went wrong.
Many times, as you use a Social Story™, you realize that you need to revise it. That's perfectly okay. The more it suits your child's needs, the more effective it will be.
Do you have any questions about Social Stories™? Feel free to reach out and I'd be glad to help!