New parents are often warned that life isn’t about them any longer when their baby comes into the world. Don’t expect to shower more than twice a week, get used to eating with one hand, and kiss your beauty sleep goodbye.
When your child has additional needs, there are added complexities like extra clinical appointments, therapy sessions, and behavioral struggles to work through. For the 15 percent of families in the U.S. with a special needs child, there just don’t seem to be enough hours in the day.
Most families I’ve worked with don’t even mind that there isn’t any “me” time any longer. Their biggest concern is “us” time: enjoying the family as a unit and making sure everyone gets enough attention — all while setting their children up for success in both school and life.
Back to School: The Greatest Challenge
The start of the school year can be especially tough for both parents and kids. For children with autism, the sudden change in routines and the demands of school life can pose a massive challenge. Oftentimes, it can feel like all of the progress you’ve made gets undone the second the school bell rings.
When this feeling comes along, remember that every parent finds the start of the school year stressful — whether their children have special needs or not. You may feel alone in this struggle or that you’re inconveniencing those around you by providing your child with what he or she needs. But trust me when I say that every parent can feel this strain during such a transitionary period.
Beyond that, there are a few tricks that can help this tumultuous time go a little smoother for both you and your child:
1. Ease in gently.
The “rip the Band-Aid” technique is never a good plan for children who rely on routine. Begin to implement more routine into the summer vacation — from stricter sleep schedules to more structured activities — so it’s less of a shock when classes and homework come around.
Children with special needs may have a longer adjustment period than others, so talk through the process with them before the school year begins, and have patience in those early days and weeks as you adjust together.
2. Cross work and play.
Children with autism can often struggle to understand why work set at school intrudes in their home. You can help ease this transition by designating a timed “work zone.”
Once the timer is up, your child can leave the desk behind and enjoy breaks for movement and fun. Thirty minutes of math will seem less intimidating if they’re followed by bike rides and cookie baking. Sticker charts and gold stars are also great ways to reward your child while keeping track of his or her progress.
3. Bring in the cavalry.
As your child begins making the necessary adjustments to a new routine, demands like homework will be a struggle, and that’s OK. Teachers will be more than willing to give you guidance.
If you’re having difficulty getting your child through his or her homework, ask the school for suggestions on what can be done. Ongoing communication is key to providing the parent, teacher, and child with everything needed to help each other. Just as you should be encouraging your children to come to you with their worries and not suffer in silence, you should do the same.
4. Care for yourself.
The most important thing to remember is that a happy parent makes for a happy home. Find ways to take the work out of homework while engaging with your child.
By getting the whole family involved, you can ensure you’re doing your best to encourage homework while still getting yourself some of that quality time you crave.
Certain aspects of parenting will always be a struggle — there’s no avoiding that. What you can control is how much pressure you place on yourself and your child. Just remember that every step forward is one that both you and your child can be proud of.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.