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After School Vacation – A happy return

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school vacationIf you are a working mom I know you look forward to your vacation time. The change of pace is always refreshing and often reboots your energy for the return. Unfortunately, the time off is temporary and sometimes just not long enough. If returning to work is a difficult transition for you to make just think about what it is like for your child to return to school after a vacation break.

Whether it’s a long or short reprieve for your child it’s important to empathize with the reluctance he or she may express to “go back to work”. Many children, with or without autism, do not like their ‘job’ of going to school. And there are two things that can make vacation even more difficult – transitions and anxiety.

Transitions: Children on the autism spectrum take longer to adjust to a change in schedule. Your child may just be getting comfortable with the ‘all day at home’ schedule when suddenly it’s time to make yet another shift in routine. Recurring change is the enemy of most autistic children and can cause stress levels to rise and anxieties to increase causing much friction and unrest in their households.

On the other hand, there are a few children who actually look forward to going back to school after a vacation break. Many can transition well despite having to adjust to another new schedule. Regardless of the category your child falls into, the following suggestions will help facilitate a smooth vacation transition.

– If the school break is a short one, try not to relax the rules around bedtime. Making smooth adjustments to an established bedtime routine in the course of one week may be an unrealistic expectation. Consider the time your child requires to make a stress free transition and honor it.

– Hold a family meeting before school begins again to discuss and plan for the transition. If you’ve never held a family meeting before this is a great time to start.

– If screen machine privileges have been increased during a school vacation make sure you give fair warning about when they will end. And once you re-establish the TV, video and computer use rules make sure you stick to them. Children thrive on predictability.

– Relay a positive attitude when discussing the return to school. If your child isn’t enthused about returning, focus on the events they find the most interesting such as, sports, computer or music.

Anxiety: Many children can harbor anxiety about school. Be it issues with friends, bullying, challenging class work, sensory over-stimulation, or a new teacher, it’s important to address the culprit.   When dealing with a child who is very resistant about returning to school after a vacation break ask her to express her worries and concerns. This may be difficult if your child is non-verbal or struggles to communicate.

– If your child has difficulty expressing himself try a different tactic. Drawing, looking at pictures, reading books etc may be helpful tools to help you identify the things that cause your child anxiety.

– Sometimes all you can do is anticipate what the anxieties might be based on past experience and good detective work. Then you can address each possibility with a plan of action.

– Touching base with your child’s teacher is always a good idea. Email, call or make an appointment to talk to your child’s teacher. Ask if she has observed differences in your child’s behavior or any behavior of other peers towards your child at school.

If you are a parent of an autistic child (or any child) who is showing signs of anxiety about returning to school you can find extra support and ideas for making the transition more manageable in my new book – Autism Parenting: Practical Strategies for a Positive School Experience. Available on Amazon Kindle.

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