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Director: Cathy Pratt, Ph.D., BCBA
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IRCA Articles > Family

For Parents:  Preparing for the School Year

Contributed by:  Dr. Cathy Pratt, BCBA-D, Director, Indiana Resource Center for Autism


Anticipating the beginning of the school year can be a time of high anxiety for both parents and their sons or daughters. Parental concerns such as will my child be successful in the new school year both academically and socially as well as will his/her new teachers command a good understanding of autism spectrum disorders (ASD) seem magnified with all the unknowns that the new school year brings. At times, you may know staff and have a good working relationship with them. Other times, staff is unknown and expectations for your son/daughter are unclear. Below are a few tips to help you become a proactive and positive advocate for your son/daughter.

  • Many teachers may not have had previous experience with students with autism spectrum disorders or may only have had experience with students quite different than your son/daughter. The Indiana Resource Center for Autism’s (IRCA) website at www.iidc.indiana.edu/irca, has several articles that can help educators better understand ASD. Topics addressed include the learning characteristics associated with ASD and teaching strategies. Parents need to proactively educate. Provide information, but do not overwhelm with educators with too much information. Identify the autism leader in you special education planning district. The list can be found at: http://www.iidc.indiana.edu/index.php?pageId=340. Your local special education district autism leader may be able to assist with training or support.
  • Staff will need information about how autism impacts your son/daughter. At the end of this article is a form that you can complete and share with your child’s teachers. This form allows you to provide specific information about learning styles, communication systems, medical issues, behavior supports, and other topics. Make sure that you describe your child and not only in terms related to their ASD (e.g., sense of humor, kind, gentle, smart). Ask that information be shared with relevant staff including cafeteria workers, custodians, bus drivers, the school secretary, the school nurse, and administrators. The form is brief so as not to overwhelm staff.
  • Request information about bus schedules, parent teacher organizations, and available resources (e.g., counselors, social workers, nurses).
  • Before beginning the school year in a new school, work to alleviate any anxieties you or your son/ daughter may have about the new setting. Preparation for this move can be facilitated by obtaining a map of the school, a copy of his/her schedule for the fall, a copy of the student handbook and rules, and a list of clubs/extracurricular activities. Ask to take a tour with your son/daughter before the school year begins. Request a list of school supplies, locker combination, and clothes needed for physical education. Practice getting up in the mornings and eating breakfast so the student and you will know how much time it will take him/her.
  • Visit the lunchroom and have the your son/daughter learn how to navigate the lunchroom, where to sit, and the rules of the lunchroom (e.g., going through the lunch line, sitting down in the lunchroom, etc.). Work with the staff to develop a social narrative or visual task analysis if needed.
  • Ask the school to identify key people or identify a mentor the student can contact if she/he is having a difficult time adjusting or understanding a certain situation. Ask for the name and contact information for this person. This is especially important if your son/daughter is in middle or high school.
  • If possible, obtain pictures of your student’s teachers, staff, bus driver, cafeteria workers, etc.
  • Classmates of the new student also may need information. This should be provided in a respectful manner and without stigmatizing the student on the autism spectrum. Talk to the teacher about how classmates will be informed. IRCA has articles that can help with educating elementary and secondary age students at  http://www.iidc.indiana.edu/index.php?pageId=3567.
  • At the very beginning of the new school year, establish methods and a schedule for communicating between home and school. Suggestions for maintaining ongoing communication include journals, daily progress notes, mid term grades, scheduled appointments or phone calls, e-mails, informal meetings, report cards, or parent teacher conferences. Inform teachers of the method of communication that works best for you (e.g., text, e-mail, phone calls). Forms that can be used to facilitate home school communication can be found at http://www.iidc.indiana.edu/index.php?pageId=3265.
  • Be clear and proactive about your expectations for the school year. When parents and school staff collaborate, your son/daughter is the ultimate winner.
  • At times, rumors may circulate about your district, school, or personnel. If you hear a rumor, go to the source and have a conversation. Not everything on listservs, Facebook, and e-mails is accurate.  Do not jump to judgment. Your only goal should be to ensure that all work collaboratively on behalf of your son/daughter.  


The ultimate goal is to promote a successful experience for both your child and for you. By proactively and positively working with the school, challenges can be minimized and trust built.


Family Information about Your Student on the Autism Spectrum form - Printer Friendly PDF














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