Tips for parents for kids with Autism heading back to school this month

by Terri Dee
Illinois News Connection

It's also important to pay attention to the physical needs of an autistic child to avoid overwhelming them.
CHICAGO - For a child on the autism spectrum, returning to school after the summer break may be viewed with anxiety and hesitancy. However, parents can pave the way for a better experience.

A child may feel uncomfortable with the unfamiliar faces of a new teacher and classmates. According to the Illinois Department of Public Health, about one in 50 children in Illinois is diagnosed with autism.

Erin Skaggs, marketing director for Easterseals DuPage & Fox Valley, said she believes some action in advance of the first day of school can make a difference.

"I always recommend to start with your school - contact the counselor or social worker about setting up a one-on-one school tour," she said. "It really can help alleviate some of those questions kids have, and parents, about where their child will be going on that first day. And then certainly, of course, going to any other 'welcome' events the school may have."

Skaggs suggested that the child also have a one-on-one meeting with the teacher - and with parents present - before the school year starts, to address any necessary accommodations. She added that letting children choose their own school supplies and clothing gives them a sense of control and can have a positive impact.

In DuPage County, the ratio of children with autism is one in 65. In Lake and McHenry counties, it is one in 70, according to state data.

It's also important to pay attention to the physical needs of an autistic child to avoid overwhelming them. Skaggs said a backpack to be carried to and from school should be the correct size for the child. It should have adjustable straps and be no wider or longer than the child's torso for equal weight distribution.

"Always make sure if you're loading items into your child's backpack to place heavier items closest to the back of the backpack, closest to the body," she said.

The Illinois Center for Autism's Special Day School Program offers year-round educational programming to students from ages 3 to 21 who've been diagnosed with autism, cognitive or emotional disabilities or developmental delays. The ICA program is approved by the Illinois State Board of Education.