Transitioning Students with ASD Back to On-Campus Learning

August 23, 2021

UC Davis MIND Institute Experts Offer Advice for a Smooth Change

Heading back to school this year is going to be unique for all students. But it will be especially unique for kids with autism, who are more likely to experience extra challenges while transitioning back to full-day classroom learning. To assist with this change in routine, experts from the UC Davis MIND Institute have identified common concerns these students will face and have offered advice addressing these issues. According to the MIND experts, mask-wearing will most likely be the biggest challenge kids on the spectrum will face this year. This is largely due to the extended period of time they are required to wear them. To get students used to wearing masks, the experts advocate using a desensitization protocol. They suggest starting the child out wearing the mask for a short period of time and gradually increase it to a more significant period of time. The institute’s specialists also encourage parents to access their social story video on mask-wearing to help their children adapt to masking requirements. Another identified challenge will be getting students accustomed to a full day of learning. The experts say that separation anxiety from family or caregivers may be the biggest obstacle to overcoming this issue. To combat this problem, they suggest previewing your student’s day by going to campus and walking the grounds to familiarize them with classrooms, bathrooms, cafeteria, parking lot, and so forth. General anxiety is another concern that the MIND experts advise parents to be aware of. They recommend helping your child overcome fear or anxiety by gradually exposing them to the specific things they are worried about and then breaking down those concerns into small steps. For instance, the experts advise practicing getting up and getting ready for school a week or two in advance. Once the child is used to getting up, add in getting dressed, and then getting in the car. Focusing on the transitions that are most challenging for the child gives them the best shot at success. 

The MIND Institute has also identified several key changes to expect during this academic year based on what schools have learned and experienced through the pandemic. These include: 

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