Back to School Blues

Some folks just don’t like change. Some folks with autism HATE change! As summer comes to an end, and the first day of school approaches, some students with autism respond with temper outbursts, poor sleeping habits, and stubborn refusal to follow directions. Even youngsters who seem to like school struggle with the transition. What can we do about the “Back to School Blues?”

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Because of individual differences, it is difficult to come up with a “one-size-fits-all” strategy for building a smooth bridge between summer and the school year. But several basic strategies have helped the process for lots of folks over the years.

ACKNOWLEDGE THE DIFFICULTY. If we recognize and accept that fact that resistance to change is a natural result of autism, we can take positive, pro-active steps to help our youngsters make a smooth transition from summer to school. The whole process can be less stressful if family members, teachers, and others accept the fact that transition and change are difficult for many individuals with autism. That doesn’t mean that we should ignore inappropriate and troublesome behavior, but it does mean that we can adopt an attitude of helping our friend on their journey rather than getting frustrated with their tantrums and stubbornness.

INTRODUCE CHANGE GRADUALLY. Several weeks before school starts, we can gradually begin introducing structure to the evening routine and to the morning routine. We can gradually begin waking our youngster up closer and closer to the time they will need to rise once school starts.

MAKE TRANSITION AN ADVENTURE. Purchase a calendar that can be used to keep track of the last weeks before school starts. Your youngster with autism can mark off each day in a countdown to school, and he can write down “back-to-school events” such as shopping for school supplies and Meet the Teacher night. Your family can have a “Last Day of Summer” party that includes swimming, carving a watermelon, churning ice cream, or other favorite summer activities. Granted, a low-key approach is better for some individuals with autism who would be overwhelmed with all this excitement, but others get distracted with the celebrations, making back-to-school blues evaporate.

We welcome your input. Share challenges and ideas based on your experiences or intuition. Just click on the comments button or send an e-mail to

NOTE TO READERS AND LISTENERS: I am Cathy Knoll, a board certified music therapist and long-time friend of many folks with autism. At we are committed to providing free, practical, everyday tips for making life better for people with autism. Feel free to send me an email with your thoughts or challenging situations or innovative solution. Send email to And don’t forget to check out our website for a wealth of ideas and a glimpse into the world of autism.

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