Trawl any online autism forum or community and one of the most common issues discussed regularly between parent carers is “why is my child behaving in school all day and then just exploding as soon as they get home?”
School is often hard for autistic children to negotiate and process; whether it is the noise, bright lights, crowds, constant transitions, trying to “fit in”, having to follow complex instructions, working out and following all of the unspoken “rules” of the playground and friendships, being forced to learn in a way that doesn’t necessarily suit how their brain is wired. All of these and more can cause your child untold anxiety and stress.
You may or may not have heard about the “Coke bottle theory”. Imagine, for a moment, your child is a bottle of Coke. Every time throughout the school day they encounter something difficult to deal with or process, it’s time for another shake of the bottle. The bottle looks normal from the outside, no matter how many times it is shaken, your child is keeping it all bottled up inside. As soon as they leave school, or get home…. whoosh!!! The lid is off, the Coke comes spewing out all over the place, and usually all over you. Your child is having a meltdown, or crying, or getting angry; they have let go of all that pent up fizz they have been holding on to all day.
What can you do to help your child and ease this daily transition for them and you? There are things that can be done to help, both by you and school.
Firstly, it’s a good idea to talk to your child’s teacher and/or learning support assistant / SENCO to come up with a plan about what can be done to help your child prepare for the end of the day before the bell goes, so they come out of the gates in the best frame of mind. Here are some things to consider:
- The school could provide a clear visual timetable of all the steps that need to be taken before the end of the school day (e.g. finish learning task, tidy up desk, put on coat, etc.) and using a timer / clock to prepare your child for the end of the day approaching.
- The school could incorporate some calming activities at the end of the day, such as breathing exercises, work with an exercise ball, using a weighted jacket, allowing your child to read in the quiet corner for the last ten minutes.
- Ask if the same person (like their LSA) can escort your child from the classroom and “handover” to you at the end of the day.
- Asking the school to consider allowing your child to leave before the bell goes or leave the classroom last, to avoid the busiest transition time.
And here are some tips for you to consider to make the transition as easy as possible for your child:
- Stick to the same routine for home time every day and make sure your child knows in advance about any changes such as playdates or after school clubs (for them or their siblings).
- Consider using a social story to illustrate to them the school to home routine.
- Keep it calm and stress free and be mentally present for your child when you pick them up – let them talk to you about their day and give them your full, positive attention.
- Don’t rush your child but don’t drag the home time routine out either – either could frustrate your child further.
- Consider bringing a snack and / or transition object from home, such as a favourite sensory toy (or book / comic if you use the car).
- Give your child time to decompress as soon as they get home – leave them to their own devices to do whatever they find relaxing, such as watching some TV or having some time with lego or their iPad, before piling extra pressure on them such as homework, food shopping or mealtime.
And finally, congratulate your child, and yourself, for getting through another school day!