So you have completed all the activities to transition your child into school. You have made visuals of the important people and classrooms. You have walked through the school. You have planned what your child is going to wear and what you are going to do after school. The teachers and aides in the class have been educated about Fragile X syndrome.
That is just the beginning.
Don’t forget to spend some time on developing strategies for the daily transitions that occur while your child is at school. Here are some matters to consider, some for you at home, others for the school setting. It might be useful to discuss these ideas with your child’s teacher and aides. Determine with them which of the ideas might be helpful for your child and possible to implement, and what you can do to help.
- Routine—Your child has to know what to expect or anxiety goes up and you might see problem behaviors and/or difficulty focusing on tasks. While it takes time to adjust to the new routine, using visuals, talking about the schedule and incorporating sensory activities all help him or her make the adjustment more quickly.
- Visual Daily Schedule—Create a schedule that will work for your child: you might use PECS (Picture Exchange Communication System), actual photographs, or words. The whole class will benefit from having a visual schedule. Orient the child/class throughout the day. For example: “This is what we are doing now and this is what is to come.” Or: “We are doing reading now, then we have lunch, and then it is PE and art this afternoon.” All while pointing to the visual schedule, so the child learns how to use the schedule.
- Prompts or Warnings—Issue these when an activity is going to end. Find what works best for your child. Some children like verbal warnings: 10 minutes, five minutes, one minute. Some like bells. Some hate bells. It is helpful to pair this with the activity that will be following the current one. For example: “In five minutes we are going to stop with our math and go to music.”
- Closure—Each activity needs to be brought to closure. Even if the child does not finish as originally intended, bring what you’re doing to some kind of closure before moving on to the next activity.
- Transition Objects/Activities—Use a “transition object” that the student takes from one activity to another. It gives the child a “job” to do. The teacher next door may need a stack of magazines or a box of supplies. It can be a real job or one that is made up. Many children have a challenging time coming in from recess, which could mean the perfect time to try a transition activity. “Everyone pick up three pieces of trash before you line up.”
- Time—Allow extra, if possible, to make the actual transition.
- Sensory Diet/Activities—Have a “Sensory Diet” built into the daily schedule, designed in consultation with an occupational therapist. For example, every 1-1.5 hours, have the student do an activity that is known to be calming, such as brushing, wearing weighted clothing, performing physical tasks, jumping on a trampoline, etc.
- Scheduled Changes to Daily Schedule—Discuss any changes to the routine ahead of time. “Practice” changes in routine to give student ideas for appropriate reactions, if possible.
- “Safe” Place—Have a “safe” place outside the classroom that the student can go to when frustrated or over-stimulated. This can help the student learn how and when he or she needs a break away from the classroom.
Kacey and Logan
Have a Plan for Lunch—The cafeteria at lunch can be overwhelming for many children. It may be helpful for a child to get into the cafeteria before all the other children so he or she can experience and manage the increase in noise and visual stimuli. This is often easier than walking into a room already noisy with a couple of hundred children. Or you may have the child observe from the door, and then you can tell him that he can come in when he is ready. If he’s still hesitant, he may need a quiet room.
- Find what works for your child. You might also start with one activity, such as eating early, with a goal that your child goes into the regular lunch as the year progresses. You might consider a “buddy system” where a typical child(ren) goes with your child to lunch.
- Something to Look Forward To—You might need to do this on a daily or a weekly basis. If there is an activity your child may find challenging, be sure to let her know that right after math there is an activity she will enjoy. When you use the sensory diet, you can give her something to look forward to all day long. You might also consider doing something on a weekly basis. It does not necessarily have to happen at school—maybe you let the teachers know that every Friday after school you are going to get ice cream.
- Unexpected Changes to Daily Schedule—Have a plan for unexpected transitions such as a fire drill, a lockdown or other emergencies. This will be covered in more detail in another section.
- Be Enthusiastic—Enthusiasm is contagious. All good teachers monitor the temperament of the class and make adjustments as needed. Enthusiasm always helps. If there is tension in the air, the child with FXS is the first to know it, and he reflects it back. These children’s ability to be a mirror of others’ emotions is actually quite amazing. It can impact the whole day.
If possible, set up as many of the ideas as you can ahead of time. The first few days of school may be a little challenging as the child gets used to the new routine. Starting with supports in place can get the school year off to a smooth start. You may need to tweak some of the strategies for transitioning, but your attention to transitions will provide comfort to a child who carries around a lot of anxiety.
Jayne Dixon Weber
has been the coordinator of support services for the National Fragile X Foundation since 2007. She has two children—one an adult son with Fragile X syndrome, the other a typical daughter studying to be an occupational therapist. In addition to assisting on the NFXF’s “Adolescent & Adult Project,” Jayne authored the book Transitioning ‘Special’ Children into Elementary School
and is the editor for the book, Children with Fragile X Syndrome
Have questions? Need more information? Contact the author at: firstname.lastname@example.org