Need to know: Tips for neurodivergent children on the first day of school.
I’m not sure about you, but leaving things to chance and hoping everything goes well is a recipe for disaster. Whether your child is starting a new school or a new year, this is a big step for them, and you play a vital role in helping them transition smoothly into this phase. To ensure your child’s success and confidence, there are a few key things you can start testing out and practising together before the big day arrives.
Why it’s important
Neurodivergent children are more likely to have sensory sensitivities and anxiety about change than their neurotypical peers. A new school year can bring about a lot of uncertainty. Testing new things is about removing as much of the unknown for them so that they have less to worry about.
A happy and calm child also means a happy and calm parent. Use the below as a starter list of tasks to get done before the new school year starts:
- Organise and trial new medications or change in dosages during the holidays
- Check that shoes, uniforms and other clothes still fit and purchase new sizes
- Check if the school has a list of stationery requirements and purchase accordingly
- Find the best travel route and ensure you have everything needed for your child to get to school. This may include ordering public transport passes, ensuring bike is serviced and helmet is the right fit
- Plan work, after/before school activities or care
Tips & strategies
Shoes and clothes – If your child struggles with new clothes and shoes, the first morning of school is definitely not the time to get them to try these out for the first time. You want to give your child plenty of time to try out new shoes and if necessary, walk around in them at home to ensure they don’t cause blisters or pain. New clothes and school uniforms can also be a source of problems for some kids. Tags or seams can be uncomfortable so you’ll need enough time to make adjustments, change sizes or find undergarments that help relieve physical contact.
Lunch & snacks – Kids’ tastes change as frequently as day and night, what they liked last year or even last week, may be off the menu completely. To avoid lunches coming back intact, get your child involved in planning what will go in their lunchbox every day.
Lunchboxes – For children who have issues with different foods touching, it’s crucial to test out lunch boxes and how they are packed. For younger kids, let them practice opening and closing containers in case their little hands find the lids tricky.
Backpacks – New school years can also bring along new fancy backpacks. Take your child shopping, involving them in the selection process. Ensure the backpack is comfortable, has ample storage, and fits their style. Practice packing and unpacking the bag together, ensuring they know where to find their essentials.
Systems for organisation – For children who struggle with executive functioning, implementing the right systems for organising their homework, subjects, projects, etc, is crucial in ensuring they don’t fall behind. Strategies like colour coding folders and stationery, write-and-wipe calendars, and yearly diaries can all support memory, planning and organisation.
New routes and safety – Whether it’s walking, biking, taking the bus, or carpooling, it’s best to discuss the best ways to get to and from school. Depending on your child’s age, test out the new route together, check timings, and ensure they are comfortable with road safety, using crosswalks, and being aware of their surroundings. This empowers them to take responsibility for their journey while ensuring their safety.
One spot for everything – Keeping your child’s backpack, shoes, hat, and other school related items in one place is really helpful in staying organised. If this is not possible, at least agree with your child on where each of those things will live. At the end of the day, that’s where they pack away their school gear and in the morning that’s where they will find things.
New routine – Don’t forget that you also need to give yourself a chance to test out changes to your day. Consider things like school drop off and pickup and how it may impact work start and finish times, making lunches, doing laundry, etc.