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Ask Dr. Emily – Going Back to School Support

Dr. Emily Neuhaus, the author of The Autism Blog's Ask Dr. Emily monthly series

Dr. Emily Neuhaus, the author of The Autism Blog’s Ask Dr. Emily monthly series, answers a reader’s question that we want to share with all our readers.

Welcome to the April edition of Ask Dr. Emily

Ask Dr. Emily is a monthly series on The Autism Blog where Dr. Emily Neuhaus, a clinical psychologist at Seattle Children’s Autism Center, answers a reader’s question.

We often receive questions that we want to share with all our readers. We welcome you to send us your questions and Dr. Neuhaus will do her best to answer them each month. Send your questions to theautismblog@seattlechildrens.org.

This month, Dr. Emily answers a reader’s question about how to prepare kids to go back to school with tips and resources from Andrea Lupas, Ph.D.; and Lia Thibodaux, Ph.D.

Question:

My kids are going back to school in person soon after a long time of learning at home! What do we need to know to prepare them?

Answer:

In a year full of changes, this is definitely another big transition for kids and their families! It’s great that you’re thinking ahead so you can ease that transition back to in-person education, especially since this shift can mean new health guidelines and procedures at school, a new schedule and sequence for the day, and lots of big feelings.

Fortunately, today we’re featuring guidance from two skilled psychologists – Dr. Andrea Lupas, Ph.D. (Postdoctoral Fellow, Seattle Children’s Autism Center); and Dr. Lia Thibodaux, Ph.D. (Postdoctoral Fellow, Neuropsychology Consultation Service). They’ve put together a wealth of strategies and resources to get kids and families back to school in the smoothest way possible.

 

How to Support Children Going Back to School during COVID-19

Andrea Lupas, PhD & Lia Thibodaux, PhD

More schools are beginning to move toward in-person learning. Some children may do well with the transition and others may need extra support. Below are suggestions for supporting your children as they go back to school. Click here to download a handout with these strategies plus sample guides to use at home.

Health and Safety  

Monitor your child’s health. If they are sick or have a fever over 100.4, do not send them to school. Temperature and symptom checks can be completed each day as a family to make these behaviors seem normal for children.

 

Before going back to school, teach children how to:

  • Distance from Others
    • Teach your child by using physical cues to show them what distance means.
    • Show them how to measure distance by stretching out their arms.
    • Hula hoops, jump ropes, or tape on the floor may also be helpful.
    • Teach kids how to wave and say “hi” instead of hugging.
    • The Center for Disease Control (CDC) now recommends keeping 3 feet apart in schools, instead of 6 feet. Washington schools are currently allowed to decide if they will distance 3 or 6 feet. It is important to ask your child’s school what they will do for distancing so that you can prepare your child.
  •  Distancing resources:

 

 

 

  • Wash Hands 
    • Handwashing should last 20 seconds. 
    • All parts of hands (under fingernails, thumbs, and the back sides of hands) need washing. 
    • Use songs to help children spend the full 20 seconds washing their hands. 
      • Example songs are the “happy birthday” song twice or the alphabet song. 

 

  • Practice distancing, masking, and handwashing at home before going to school. 
    • You can turn these into games to make them more fun! 
    • Building routines, rewards, and breaks into practice can help your child be successful. 
    • Visual timers or counting aloud/on your fingers are helpful tools to show children how long they should wash hands or wear a mask. 

 

Emotion and Behavior Support 

Going back to school can cause kids to feel happy, worried, or other emotions. It is important to:

 

Listen to Feelings

Build Routines 

  • Rebuilding school routines is helpful for going back to school. Work with your child’s teachers to make sure there is a routine at school, too.
  • Picture versions of routines or spoken instructions help children understand routines.
    • An example of a picture routine (visual schedule) is provided in the link at the end of this blog. Picture routines should be specific to children and their routines.
  • Practice these routines before the first day of school.
  • Tell children about any changes, do not surprise them! It can be helpful to discuss changes with teachers or other school staff.

Give Rewards 

  • Reward children for specific, good behaviors. Rewards can be praise, extra play time, or fun items. 
  • If children aren’t motivated to distance, mask, handwash, or go to school, caregivers and teachers can help build motivation with rewards.
  • Rewards can be temporary solutions until your child is used to new routines and rules.
  • For example, if your child does not like washing their hands, tell them they can have 5 minutes of game time for practicing handwashing. 

Provide Visuals

  • Visuals about distancing, where/how to wear masks, how to wash hands, routines, and rewards are helpful for understanding. 
  • Example of a visual reminder to wash hands, wear a mask, cover coughs and sneezes, and distance: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/downloads/stop-the-spread_poster.pdf
  • See “Sample Morning Routine Visual” below!
  • See “Sample Guide to Practice Wearing A Mask” below!

 Other Resources

https://www.iidc.indiana.edu/irca/articles/transitioning-back-to-school-during-covid.html

https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/community/pdf/Back-to-School-Planning-for-In-Person-Classes.pdf

 

To Summarize:

  • Distance
  • Wear Masks
  • Wash Hands
  • Listen to Feelings
  • Give Rewards
  • Build Routines
  • Provide Visuals

These are suggestions that work well for most children. If your child is significantly distressed, consider working with a therapist of counselor.

Handout Link: Tips for Supporting Your Child Going Back to School During COVID

Autism and Voting in 2020

This fall brings a big election season to the US, and with it come questions about how to best support the voting process among family members with ASD. Here, we’ll share some thoughts from previous posts on this topic https://theautismblog.seattlechildrens.org/ask-dr-emily-autism-and-voting/ , as well as updated resources and Read full post »

Coping for Caregivers

Current events in the country and world are weighing on many of us right now. Families are likely feeling a lot of different emotions and balancing different demands while coping with change and uncertainty. Read full post »

Back to Basics: Supporting Kids Without Guilt

With schools closed for the time being, many families are struggling with how to approach education: Should they treat these weeks as spring break? Try to replicate their child’s school schedules at home? Create some sort of homeschooling schedule? On top of this new challenge, many parents are also trying to work from home or care for others at the same time. Understandably, some families are feeling overwhelmed and anxious about this right now.

In the coming days, we’ll be sharing some educational ideas and resources to support families at home. But today, I hope parents can put aside any guilt or pressure they feel about how they are (or aren’t) handling education right now. Instead, consider this idea when feeling anxious about school:

The things kids need most right now are the same things their parents already know how to give them.

  • Comfort – Routines have changed, and while they’ll normalize again, this is a real time of transition. Continuing to offer hugs, smiles, and a few minutes playing or reading together can make a big difference for both of you.
  • Sleep  – We all cope best with changes and challenges when we’re sleeping well. Just like before, helping kids get enough sleep each night sets them up for calmer, happier daytimes, and more resilience overall.
  • Movement – Children (and adults!) often feel best with lots of exercise. If they can get outside while keeping a distance from others, kids can walk in the neighborhood or park, ride a scooter or bike, make up scavenger hunts in the area, or play hopscotch or jump rope on the sidewalk. Inside, activities like yoga, dancing to music, and playing active games like Simon Says, red light/green light, or Twister can let out some extra energy. For those with internet access, there are a lot of fun options online :
    • YMCA (https://ymca360.org/) is offering a selection of free exercise classes online
    • Go Noodle (https://family.gonoodle.com/) has different types of child-oriented videos, including some to get energized and others to calm down
    • Libraries– With a valid library card, both Seattle Public Library (www.spl.org) and King County Library (www.kcls.org) offer access to video resources that include exercise-related videos like dancing, yoga, and cardio sessions

The bottom line is that this is a tough (and temporary) time. But like always, parents have already got the know-how to give kids the foundation that’s most important to get through this time. Do what you can, but let go of the guilt to do more.

 

Ask Dr. Emily – Autism and Genetic Makeup

Welcome to the December edition of Ask Dr. Emily!

We often receive questions that we want to share with all our readers. To help with this, Dr. Emily Neuhaus, a clinical psychologist at Seattle Children’s Autism Center, will share insights in a question and answer format. Read full post »