Starting school for Children on the Autistic Spectrum

It won’t be long before we start thinking about back to school. For those with children starting school for the first year, it’s always an exciting and a worrying time for both kids and parents. For families with children with special needs, sometimes the worry is a little more! Today I’m sharing my tips and the strategies that we are trying for our son who will be starting school in September with ASD. I’m happy to be joining together with other bloggers from the Kid Blogger Network who are all sharing their back to school advice and tips as well as offering an amazing giveaway for you all to enter!

Tips for starting school for children with Autism, strategies and visuals

Visual Support

Often our kids are visual learners and will understand and process things better through visual means. Autistic children are not the  only ones to learn this way, think of the many times you would write a list for yourself as a visual aid rather than relying on memory, but often children on the Autistic spectrum will rely on this more than other children. If they can not read yet, as most children starting school can’t, then a visual time table using pictures is a really useful tool.

We often use visual time tables for Mr T to help him to transition from one activity to the next, and this can be very useful in a classroom setting. As Mr T will have a split teacher class  this year, we may need a simple weekly time table with pictures of each teacher to remind him who to expect as his main classroom teacher each day.

Mr T is also very interested in maps at the moment, so working together with him to prepare a map of the school layout would be a useful task to make sure he knows where everything is in school and to help him feel reassured about his surrounding. Making sure children know where the toilets are, where the coat pegs and trays for the book bags are along with anything else they may need can definitely help to reduce anxiety.

Familiarise with the setting

We have taken Mr T to visit his new school a couple of times at the end of term. Luckily he is quite familiar with the building as he visits every day to pick up and drop off his older brother. For a child without an older sibling in the school, it could be a good idea to practise walking the school run a few times to familiarise them with the route and the school surroundings (This can also help you to gage how long it will take your child to get to school – especially if they are a slow walker!)

We’ve also been using some books to help familiarise with the idea of school. This will help any child get an idea of what to expect, especially if they have not been going to the school nursery at the school they will be starting. Mr T is moving up from a small montessori nursery where he has been settled for two years, so it is a big change. Hopefully with the right support and preparation it will be fine!

Here are some books about starting school. I also used some of these when my eldest was starting school two years ago. There are books on the list suitable for all abilities, so just select the ones most appropriate to your child.

We have also been using some books from Monkey Wellbeing for Mr T. These are colourful books with plenty of pictures, and the Starting School pack also came with stickers, colouring activities and a certificate for starting school.


Make sure your child has a good sleep routine

School is tiring for any child, especially in the first year. When a child is going into school without having their full quota of sleep its so much harder for them to manage during the day, especially with so many new things to deal with!

I have a guest post from the authors of Sleep and your Special Needs Child with tips and advice on how to settle your child with Autism into a good sleep routine.

If all else fails though, you can speak to your child’s paediatrician for more advice and sometimes Melatonin can help. Of course, you need to discuss it with your paediatrician but for Mr T this has been very helpful in regulating his sleep. I had been very hesitant about introducing it to him, but it is natural and in some cases it works really well.

Prepare the practical skills

When starting reception, the practical life skills are often more important than the academic skills. Our children with Autism won’t be the only ones who may be struggling with this skills. Some children are starting school just days after their 4th birthday and teachers won’t expect all of the children to be fully competent in all self help skills but the more we can prepare our children the more confident they will feel in starting school.

We are currently working on:

  • Toilet training. For children who have already mastered this then they can work on being fully independent in cleaning themselves and washing and drying hands.
  • Dressing and undressing (coat and shoes, and clothes for PE)
  • Knife and fork and table skills

If your child has a lot of difficulty in these skills, you may be able to get sessions from your Occupational therapist to focus on each of these skills in individual sessions.

Where to get support

As well as preparing your child for school, it’s also important to know where to get support as a parent. Each change of stage often means different professionals will be in charge of your child’s care. When starting nursery, we transitioned from Portage into the Inclusion team, and now we will be saying good bye to them and be relying on the support of the school SENCO. When starting school, rather than taking your child to therapy in your local Child Development Centre, they may be receiving visits from professionals going directly to school which may feel like a huge change when you are used to regularly attending appointments with your child!

Finding out about local groups for families with children on the Autistic spectrum is also really helpful as then you will know lots of others who are in the same boat. Unfortunately other parents with no experience of Autism might not always understand, which can be a little lonely so it’s important to have people you can empathise with and get advice from one another.

Celebrate their achievements

Although it’s often a harder road for our children starting school than for neurotypical kids, and we have to spend so much time emphasising their difficulties when applying for statements, discussing their needs and pushing for support, it’s important to celebrate their achievements and success too!

Mr T has difficulties in lots of areas. He also has lots of strengths and many skills that are great! It’s so important that he knows that he is just as good as anyone else in his class and feels confident and proud of himself, so this is always at the top of my priority list, to encourage and support and let him know that he is amazing!

What are your tips to help make the starting school transition easier for children on the Autistic spectrum? I’d love to hear from mums who have been through this journey already. Please do leave your tips and advice in the comments, or share on the In The Playroom Facebook page!

backtoschoollinkySee more back to school posts here and share yours too!

Welcome to the Annual Back to School with Kid Blogger Network Linky Party featuring activities, crafts, supply ideas, recipes, organization, books and MORE to get your family ready for the upcoming school year!  Link up your kid-friendly posts to have them featured on 35 blogs who are members of the Kid Blogger Network.  We invite you to visit a few posts from participants, leave a comment, and share on social media!  Thank you so much for sharing your Back to School Resources!   
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For your chance to win this huge back to school prize, enter via the Rafflecopter below: We’re excited to announce a Back to School Giveaway for you to enter to WIN! The prizes are sponsored by Safari LtdMelissa and DougTrunki,Elmer’s GlueDiscount School SuppliesSqueazy Gear, plus Gift Certificates were donated for Printable Packets and/or eBooks from The Educators’ Spin On It , 3 DinosaursPreschool Powol Packets, Look! We’re LearningThis Reading Mama, & Life Over C’s. Win a huge bundle of Back to school projects with the KBN back to school giveaway

This giveaway is for US readers only (Apologies to UK and international readers – please find all our other giveaways here which you will be eligible to enter)

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Check the other Back to School posts from these great Kid Blogger Network members:

The Educators’ Spin On It
All Done Monkey
Artsy Momma
Creekside Learning
Crystal’s Tiny Treasures
Fun Handprint Art
Growing Book by Book 
In The Playroom
Inspiration Laboratories
Inspiring NH Kids
Kids Yoga Stories
Kitchen Counter Chronicles
Learning to Walk
Lemon Lime Adventures
Life Over C’s
Line upon Line Learning 
Little Bins For Little Hands
Living Montessori Now
Look! We’re Learning!
Mama Smiles
Multicultural Kid Blogs
Planet Smarty Pants
Premeditated Leftovers
Preschool Powol Packets 
She Lives Free
Still Playing School
The Connection We Share
The Jenny Evolution
The Pleasantest Thing
This Reading Mama
Toddler Approved
True Aim Education
3 Dinosaurs

15 thoughts on “Starting school for Children on the Autistic Spectrum”

  1. September will be my sons first ‘back to school’ experience. I’m hoping that because we’ve been talking about school lots and walking past it a few times a week that he’ll be ok 🙂


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