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Autism's Back-to-School Anxiety

This blog post is by Priscilla Gilman, the mother of a son affected by autism. The article was orginally featured here on 'The Daily Beast.'

 

As the school year gets underway, incoming students are adjusting to a new schedule and new teachers, navigating their classes and peer groups, and generally struggling to figure themselves out. But for children on the autism spectrum, the return to the classroom can be much more complex. What are some of the unique challenges that kids with autism face during back-to-school season?

As a former college professor and the mother of a 12-year-old boy on the autism spectrum, I can attest that the transition from carefree summer to the bustle and busyness of back-to-school season can be a particularly tough time. These are harrying days for all kids, but for those on the spectrum, the challenges are more intense and different in kind. Children with autism typically struggle with novelty, and a new school year can bring an overwhelming flood of novelty—new teachers and classmates, a new physical space to become acclimated to, a new schedule and routine, new demands and expectations both academically and behaviorally.

The change in seasons also affects children on the spectrum who are acutely sensitive to temperature and textures. One mom on my Facebook page told me that her autistic son hated having to wear socks again, and another lamented having to put her daughter’s open sandals away and enclose her feet in shoes. Less outdoor and active play time as the weather gets colder leads to an increase in irritability or anxiety in all children. For those on the spectrum, the loss of therapeutic activities like swimming, water and sand play, and time in nature even more strikingly affects their functioning.

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