Back to School Tips for Autistic Children (Winter Edition)

By sandra.caplesc…, 15 November, 2022
A chalk board with writing on it.

Winter is a joyful season, with snow and Christmas lights, the start of a new year. Oh, and let’s not forget the presents! During this time, children can enjoy great winter activities—and a well–deserved holiday from school.

However, all vacations end way too fast, and before we know it, you will drive your child back to school again. Transitions are tough, but for students with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), transitioning back to school can be particularly stressful and challenging. Children with autism might get nervous about starting school again, especially after establishing a routine.

Going back to school is not just stressful for the child but for the parents too. It’s essential to be involved in your child’s schooling, but it’s hard work to determine how to prepare them for school. This article offers strategies for easing your child back into the school routine. Be aware that every child’s needs are unique, so while not all methods will work, you know your child best.

Trust your instincts!

Tips for Going Back to School

Before we dive back into the best strategies, it’s important to consider ways to lessen a child’s anxiety.

Firstly, help your child physically calm and encourage their sensory system to relax. You can let them play, move, climb, jump, or get lots of movement. This way, children get proprioceptive movement and the deep touch pressure input they need to relax.

You can try using a trampoline or a monkey bars tower to give your child the necessary input.

Secondly, after your child relaxes and calms their nervous system, you can ease their anxieties further by developing a plan for what will happen. Children with autism thrive on routine, so that any disruption can trigger meltdowns.

Without further ado, here are some strategies for making the transition back to school easier.

Visit the School Before It Starts

You might have done this at the beginning of the school year, but it won’t harm your child to arrange another school tour before the winter break ends. This way, your little one can become familiar with the classroom and building and be ready for the first day of school.

You can also take pictures of the school and create a book depicting what your child can see at school every day. Consider taking more than one advance trip to school to increase your child's comfort level.

Write a Social Story

Social stories are a fun, simple, and fantastic way to explain to your child what's coming up—and how they might feel about upcoming changes. Social stories can be combined with photos or clip art to provide a visual prompt. This way, your child will feel safe about the new changes.

Create a New Morning Routine

Even if your child hates waking up early during a vacation, it's important to wake your child a little earlier each morning. This way, they will get accustomed to the new schedule—and know what to expect when returning to school. Use a visual schedule to showcase the new daily routine to make things easier.

Create a Safe Sensory Space

Take advantage of the time off from school to create a sensory-safe space at home. This space can contain a bean bag or a small tent. You can place comfortable cushions with your child's favorite fidget toys or a heavy weighted blanket. Think about what your child likes and use that to decorate the space.

Encourage your little one to use the room during the winter holiday; once school starts, your child can retreat to self-calm.

Find New Activities

You might not realize it, but most public schools are legally obligated to support extracurricular activities. You can use this information to your advantage since they are a good way for your child to build confidence and create relationships.

Or you can encourage your child during the winter holiday to explore new activities—and be more active. There are many ways to encourage your little one to be more active, such as trying a new trampoline or swinging from a tree.

Buy Sensory-Friendly School Supplies

Using sensory-friendly school supplies can help ground your child during stressful times. You can try pencil grips, a wobble cushion, or anything your child might find helpful.

Dress Rehearsal

One of the strategies you can use to help your child navigate the school is through practice. Before school starts again, do a trial run. Help your child find his locker, teach him how to use the lock, and walk him from classroom to classroom.

In addition, if your child has a dress code, create a social story or visual schedule. Use a calming deep, pressure shirt your child can wear under the school uniform or a weighted vest your child can wear during stressful times. You know your child best, so use all your knowledge to find the best items for your little one.

Speak with the Teacher

Your child needs to have a good relationship with the teacher. First, you can ask your child's teacher to meet with your child via Zoom or in person; this way, your child will feel more at ease since your teacher's face will not be brand-new.

It's also vital to address any concerns. Your teacher can't know everything about your child, so give them tips and tricks to work with your child effectively. Write a letter outlining your child's weaknesses and strengths, as well as possible dietary restrictions or sensory issues. With this 'student passport,' the school's staff will know how to aid your child.

This ‘student passport’ can be a simple one-page document with a photo of your little one. It can also include likes and dislikes, how they communicate, things he needs help with, etc.

Meet the Bus Driver

It’s also important to practice the transportation routine. The more familiar your child is with the routine, the better.

You can also meet the bus driver so your child will feel comfortable riding the school bus on the first day back. Some riders can even offer a ride-along to school if your child feels more comfortable with that. Provide your driver with important information about your child's strengths or weaknesses.

Find a Playdate

Once school starts, you can set up meetings with new classmates. This way, your child can become more comfortable with their classmates more quickly. Or, if your child already has a friend, you can set up meetings with them.

It all depends on your level of comfort. Reach out to parents with children in the same class as yours and see if they'd like a playdate. If the school offers any social events, participate—this is a great chance to meet other families.


It's important to remain positive and keep an upbeat attitude about school starting. Try to relax—your child will feel your anxiety and feel anxious in return. This way, your child will stay calmer, make a successful transition, and breeze through the rest of the year.