Autism Outreach for Schools

Vanessa's Blog: February - Back to school again!

Preparing for a return to school - by Becky White 

Sometime in the next few weeks we expect schools to open fully again, but the difficulty is knowing exactly when and how this will occur.  Until we know, we can’t prepare our young people and, as we know, preparation is key for those with autism.

We wrote an article giving lots of information on this topic as the children were returning to school in May 2020.  Here is a summary of that blog post, with one or two new ideas which might be helpful to you (and them).


Prior warning


Timelines can be really useful when change is coming but you don’t know exactly what will happen when.  It can show the expected steps (e.g. Boris will tell us the plan, primary schools will open) and can even have dates included if known but can be tailored to show an appropriate level of detail for different children.  Think of a timeline as a working document, which can be amended as more information is available.

Social Stories

A social story is used to give more information and fill in the gaps about a social situation.  They can use words or symbols, depending on the ability and understanding of the child.

Visual planner

As things change it is possible that routines will look different across the week to what the children were used to.  A visual planner might be helpful to share this information in a way which makes sense to your students.



Sorting exercises

These can be useful to look at things which will remain the same and things which will be different.  Most things at school will be the same (sitting at desks, listening to the teacher, going out at playtime etc), but as we explain the differences to children this could raise anxieties.  It may be helpful to spend some time looking at the whole picture to help children remain calmer.


Preparation for changes in routine

When explaining those things that will be different (such as hand washing, not mixing with other bubbles, lunches in classrooms etc) it would help to prepare children for these visually, not just verbally.  You could use posters, step by step guides, social stories or activities to reinforce learning.


Clear, visual rules

Similarly, the old and new rules need to be presented in a clear, visual manner. 


Circles of Familiarity

Use of circles of familiarity can help children who struggle with social understanding to identify the different groups of people they belong to.  At present, they should not be having contact with anyone outside their household, or their school bubble.  Representing this visually may help children to understand what the expectations are at school.


Choice boards

If some of your young person’s favourite toys have had to be put away for the time being, use a visual choice board to show them the options which are available in order to help them make choices.


PPE for staff

If some of your young people struggle to socially distance, or display risky behaviours such as spitting, you may need to consider supplying PPE for staff working closely with them.  Use visuals to support the understanding of the children around this.


Visual timetables

When things change even children who no longer use an individual visual timetable can benefit from having it reintroduced for a while.  Those who still use a visual timetable may need the increased support of a shorter timetable, or even a now and next board.  This is not a regression, but an intentional and positive step to support the child through a tricky time.  Once the new routine feels more normal and anxiety levels have reduced it may be possible to return to the level of support which was in place before the school closures.  Try not to rush this, however.