Making Everything Perfect

School started this week, so I’ve seen several challenging issues arise as young friends with autism attempt to adjust to new campuses, new classrooms, new teachers and classroom aids, new school routines, and new students in the hallways and classrooms. Moving to a new school can challenge even the most secure person, but the change can be particularly challenging to a youngster with autism. No matter how hard we try, it is impossible to make everything perfect during this time of transition.

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Observing this rough school adjustment period for students with autism year after year since 1974 has taught me several valuable lessons, one of which is to avoid trying to make everything perfect for these youngsters.
Our instincts compel us to make plans for weeks in advance to smooth out every possible challenge a young student with autism might possibly encounter. Granted, we want to help youngsters adapt to new settings gradually, but, in the long run, we don’t do them any favor by removing all challenges.

Here are a few strategies that have worked for some of my friends with autism during the first few months of school as they struggle with transition to a new classroom situation. Keep in mind that every single person has different challenges and different preferences, so adapt to fit the needs of any specific student.

+ Celebrate the new. If our youngsters with autism are particularly upset about leaving their previous school and teachers behind, we certainly want to acknowledge that and give them time and space to grieve and even be angry. At the same time, we can set the tone for the new classroom by speaking positively about the upcoming year. Again, without too much fanfare, we can chat about events in the upcoming week and make positive comments about the new school and teachers and students.

+ Allow for adjustment. When behavior issues escalate at the beginning of a school year, we are likely to trace the cause to our friend’s intolerance for change since transition is challenging for many individuals with autism. Given those circumstances, teachers and parents might want to allow for an adjustment period and balance expectations for appropriate behavior with the need for patience on our part during the first several days or weeks or months of school.

TIP FOR THE DAY: We can inadvertently contribute to the transition problems by our words and actions. In most cases, the challenging behavior attached to transition decreases as the youngster with autism adjusts to the new place, new people, and new daily routine. It can actually be counterproductive in the long-run to try to remove all the challenges or to make the road so smooth that our friends with autism do not ever experience the frustrations of transition to a new school. Sometimes our best strategy is to relax and help them slowly adjust to he new setting.

I encourage you to take time to explore new approaches for addressing challenging issues that can arise in the lives of our friends with autism. Click on the Toolkit tab on our website for practical, to-the-point resources with workbooks and audio discussion. Our website is

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 a confidential email at with your thoughts or challenging situations or innovative solution. 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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