Here in Northern Ireland, we are preparing to return in September following “The New School Day” guidance by the Department of Education. While I’m relying on my school’s leadership team to prepare the school, I’m doing my best to prepare my pupils.
On returning to class in September, school will be have been closed for 24 weeks. Pupils didn’t return from our ‘St Patricks Day’ break. They left on a Friday with no preparation for the long separation ahead. SEN pupils, particularly those with autism, thrive on routine and struggle with change. My heart goes out to all those families who have struggled to help their child through these uncertain times.
However, many of our SEN pupils have now settled into their new norm. Wearing their own clothes, playing on their iPad as they like and facing no demands to go anywhere. For these pupils, a sudden change back into the school environment may be just as difficult!
We are also very aware that school will not look exactly the same as it was left. Pupils may only come to school on a part time basis, staff may be wearing PPE, there are new signs around the building and the classroom environment has been spaced out! These are all huge challenges for children who struggle to adapt to change!
Here are just a few suggestions of how you can help transition these pupils back into school.
These are personalised photo books of the classroom, staff and activities. I have found the easiest way to do this is on Microsoft Word, then save as a PDF. Send these via email and the can be viewed on the child’s iPad or computer. I have encouraged parents to look at these with their children and discuss their favourite activities in school. We want the children to look forward to coming back, and not be surprised the first day the bus arrives to collect them!
There are many of these available online, however I have made my own to include details personal to our school. Here are some examples of sentences you could include (along with your own photos):
– It is time to go back to school. It will be exciting to see my friends again!
– I will be in Year X. My teacher will be Miss X.
– We have to stay apart in school. We can’t touch or hug. I can hug Mum and Dad when I get home.
– We need to wash our hands a lot!
– I can use a tissue to blow my nose or catch my sneeze!
– Some people will wear a mask, gloves or apron. This is ok!
– I can ask Miss X for help when I need it.
– I am going to have lots of fun in school. Miss X will look after me and I will be very happy!
We can’t forget the Buddy Bots over here at Teacher’s Pet as well. They’re a great way of supporting children as they return to their classroom, and the way in which change goes from being something scary to becoming much easier to deal with.
It might be helpful to send home some symbols for your pupils. (I use Communicate in Print, however you can find many examples from Wigit and Boardmaker online). I have sent home symbols for class subjects, uniform and people. Parents can use these to prepare the child for a return.
There are many useful online links/videos for Makaton signs. I have encouraged parents to use signing as the talk to their children about returning to school.
It might be useful to have a video call with pupils before the new school year begins. Seeing your face and hearing your voice will be reassuring and will ease the transition.
We are still unsure as to how our new school routine will look, and this can be particularly unsettling for pupils with ASD. However, by preparing pupils for a return to school we are aiding a smoother transition!
Remember, all we can do is our best!