Starting school marks a major change in your child’s life.
New faces, new experiences, new friends, and new routines.
For autistic kids in particular, school can be a big challenge.
If your autistic kid is having challenges in school, you may consider seeing out pediatric therapy for autism spectrum disorder.
Visiting a pediatric occupational therapy clinic can help them to develop the skills needed to succeed in school.
Today we’re first going to look at some of the ways school can be challenging for autistic kids.
After that, we’ll review the many ways pediatric occupational therapy can help.
Keep reading to find out more about the challenges your autistic child may face at school, and how occupational therapy can make things easier for them.
Its Changing Rules, Expectations, And Routines Can Be Stressful
Autistic kids generally tend to do best when they have a set routine and a consistent schedule.
They like predictability.
Although school generally follows certain predictable patterns, any changes to what is expected can make adjustments difficult.
That’s true when they transition from their summer schedule and go back to school, but it’s also true at school itself.
Changes such as school cancellations due to weather, field trips, or even having a substitute teacher can be difficult for autistic children to adjust to.
It Presents New Sensory Challenges
Sensory stimuli can be extremely overwhelming for autistic children (and adults too).
For some, it may even trigger anxiety, and result in more displays of disruptive behaviors.
These may include:
- People yelling and speaking loudly
- Bright, fluorescent lights
- The school bell
- Gyms and hallways which echo
- Fire alarms
Most of us might just think of these as part of everyday life at school, but for autistic kids with sensory processing issues, it can be overwhelming.
It Challenges Their Executive Functioning
Executive functioning consists of a set of mental skills which help people navigate their daily lives.
These can include:
- Self control
- Using working memory
- Flexible thinking
- Planning and executing things involving multiple steps
- Keeping timelines in mind when completing tasks
In a school setting, this translates to preparing for exams, planning events, managing homework, and completing projects.
Many autistic people struggle with some or all of these executive functioning tasks.
Due to this, keeping up in school can often be difficult.
It Pushes Them Into New Social Situations
One of the traits most common in autistic kids, to varying degrees, is difficulty with social communication.
For example, autistic people may struggle to maintain eye contact.
They also may not know when it’s their turn to speak in a conversation or have trouble regulating their tone of voice.
Additionally, autistic kids may not know which behaviors are acceptable in various situations.
What’s acceptable in gym class is different from what’s expected in math class, for example.
Having trouble with social cues may mean other kids don’t want to play with them at recess.
This can lead to social isolation or being perceived as introverted when they chose not to participate.
Some may withdraw rather than risk being scolded or teased for not behaving properly.
It Presents New Motor Skills Challenges
Many autistic children have difficulties with motor skills.
They may also have trouble with gross motor skills like running, jumping, kicking, and throwing.
They may also have issues with motor planning, which involves anticipating action.
Difficulty with motor skills can lead to limitations in day to day life at school, as well as scholastic achievements.
Other Kids (And Teachers) May Not Recognize Their Challenges
When someone has trouble with social cues, or displays behavior that seemingly goes against social norms, it can lead to many difficulties.
People who aren’t autistic – including classmates and teachers – will have varying levels of tolerance towards these behaviors.
An autistic child may move around in unusual or unexpected ways, carry on about a special interest, or have trouble connecting with peers.
Teachers and other kids who are not used to being around autistic people may have a lower tolerance for these behaviors.
Some may even find them upsetting.
This can result in autistic kids who don’t have support to help meet their needs falling behind in school.
It can also result in having trouble connecting with others to make friends.
This is all the more reason why a neurodiversity affirming environment is so important for autistic kids to be able to thrive.
Here at Little Feet Therapy, we work with schools to educate teachers on how to best support, not change their autistic children.
This means working with children in their natural environments, including schools, to find the best ways to support them.
How Can Pediatric Occupational Therapy Help?
If your autistic child is struggling in school due to the challenges noted above, seeking out pediatric occupational therapy can help.
Let’s look at some of the methods occupational therapists can use to help autistic kids become more successful in school settings.
1. Creating Visual Schedules
One way to help make school less challenging for autistic kids is to use visual schedules.
A visual schedule simply uses photographs or illustrations to show your child what is expected of them.
This can help them plan their day and avoid surprises.
Visual schedules are especially useful for autistic kids who thrive on routine.
They can help kids with:
- Staying on task
- Communicating their feelings
- Transitioning between activities
- Maintaining concentration
- Being less frustrated by changes
Consistent use of visual schedules, both at school and at home, can help autistic children feel more prepared and reduce stress.
2. Using Social Stories
Social stories are used to teach kids with developmental issues such as autism concepts related to social interactions.
These concepts may be hard for them to fully grasp otherwise.
They help children develop self awareness and how to interact with others.
This three step approach works as follows:
- First, identify the extent to which the child understands social interactions
- Next, using interests specific to the child, develop a social story
- Reinforce the story via role playing, reading, and visual cues
These stories can be created by parents, teachers, or other professionals such as an occupational therapist.
They can to teach your autistic child stills for a variety of situations such as appropriate behavior in class, seeing the doctor, or traveling on an airplane.
Using social stories has benefits for self awareness, social interactions, and communication skills.
3. Building Sensory Processing Strategies
Autistic kids are often overly sensitive to sensory inputs.
This may mean they react to clothing which is rough to the touch, or has tags and seams that are irritating.
Or that they are easily distracted by noisy environments and bright lights.
When it comes to smell and taste, they may stick to a small selection of “safe” foods.
Avoid certain food textures, or foods with strong odors is also common.
Sensory integration therapy can help.
The goal is to slowly expose your child to sensory stimulation in a manner that isn’t forceful, but exploratory and fun, in order for them to learn to adapt to stimuli.
Over time, their nervous system will respond to stimuli in a way which leaves them feeling less overwhelmed.
4. Developing Social Skills
If your autistic child has issues regulating their emotions, has emotional outbursts or difficulty making friends with other kids, they may benefit from social skills development therapy.
Some common areas where autistic children might have difficulty with social skills include:
- Not responding well to social stimuli
- Having trouble perceiving social cues
- Interrupting others
During occupational therapy for social skills development, your child’s therapist will use activities to help develop skills.
These activities may include:
- Social scripts and stories
- Role modeling
- Understanding emotions
- Group games
- Self regulation
5. Developing Motor Skills Coordination
Autistic children who struggle with motor skills may benefit from activities designed to help improve them.
Practicing gross motor skills may mean balancing, using therapy balls and completing an obstacle course.
Book Your Appointment With Little Feet Pediatric Therapy Today
Is your autistic kid struggling at school?
Do they get overwhelmed easily by multiple sensory inputs?
Or are they struggling to make friends because they haven’t developed social skills?
Perhaps executive functioning issues are making it hard to keep on top of their homework.
At Little Feet Pediatric Therapy, we can help.
Book your appointment with us today, and get your child help to develop the skills they’ll need in school, and for the rest of their lives.
► 3535 Randolph Rd, Charlotte, NC 28211
► 1331 H St NW Ste 200, Washington, DC 20005
► St. Louis, MO
► Raleigh, NC
Founded in 2019, Little Feet Therapy offers on site pediatric physical and occupational therapy treatments for children from 2 months to 18 years old with physical and developmental concerns. Our clinics focus on providing therapy in a child’s natural setting where your child is in familiar surroundings, it puts their mind at ease and helps them focus more on the work they’re doing with their pediatric therapist. Our therapists will work with your child at your home, at school, at daycare, or another place in the community where they feel most comfortable.