Ooh, the summer holidays have whizzed by and new terms with new teachers are beckoning for my children. It's got me thinking back a couple of years to how I felt as secondary school loomed for T and the concerns I had.  

My main one was around his school tie; never having had to wear one in primary school, would he master his tie and accept the fact he’d have to wear it every day? Having an invisible disability can have its drawbacks, on the one hand it’s a relief that it isn’t immediately obvious but, as T tends to mask his emotions, it can mean that in a school environment, people assume he’s okay, when inside he’s anything but.

T’s straight-forward and direct way of talking can mean that he can seem offhand or rude, this isn’t the case, he’s just not skilled in either reading emotions or knowing when a conversation has come to a natural end. This particularly concerned me bearing in mind that he’d be travelling to school by school bus, what if he indirectly offended an older child – by either seeming to ignore them or producing one of his glares – would there be repercussions? And, bearing in mind he was the only one from his primary school, would he make friends?

Fortunately, the majority of my fears were unfounded, he copes with the day, occasionally we get a “flare up” on the walk home (D and I wait for his school bus) and D will bear the brunt of a bit of pent-up sarcasm and sniping.

Here are some tips that helped me:

Uniform -There is bound to be a stricter uniform code, with a tie, jumper or blazer to be worn throughout the day.  On T’s first day, it was 23 degrees and he went in thinking he wouldn’t need a jumper, only to be told that is was compulsory and he faced detention if it wasn’t worn the next day.  So, be prepared (as this wasn’t mentioned in any papers). Practice the tie tying. Even if you’re happy to do the tie first thing, there’ll still be times during the day (e.g. after PE) when they’ll need to re-tie it.  We made it into a little game throughout the holidays, which appealed to T’s competitive spirit, sometimes he’d be faster than hubbie (my husband), sometimes it was very close.

Do the drive - If you can, go to the school site during the holidays, so that your child can re-familiarise themselves with where reception is, where the car park/bus stop/main gate is. It definitely helps doing this when it’s quieter.  We also went along the route the school bus would take, pointing out little landmarks he could see and recognise that he’s nearly at school/nearly back in our village (some were daft things like a field of cows or a funnily-named farm but it all helped).

Schoolbooks – My goodness - there will be loads!  Stock up with sticky-backed plastic to cover their exercise books as they will get a bit battered, we put symbols relating to the subject on too, as this made identifying the books easier. Keep the schoolbooks on a specific shelf/crate, similarly with PE kit.  It makes getting prepared easier.

Label everything!  - Shoes, calculator, pencil case… everything! If something is found, it won’t be traced back by the label, it will get lumped into lost property/student services.  Not ideal but secondary school has a heck more pupils than primary.

Get to know the SENCO - An introductory email doesn’t hurt and sometimes they’re not immediately aware of any additional needs. When we first met with T’s tutor, she had no idea of his diagnosis (which seemed poor at the time) so it helps that you know that they do. This also opens up a communication line if there are any issues. Similarly, find out if your child’s tutor can be contacted on email, as well as subject teachers.

The school bag - Forget all these messenger-type bags, they are going to have a lot to carry around.  A decent backpack will ease the weight on their shoulders and should last a while too. T started with a messenger bag but very quickly moved to a Hype backpack, lots of colourful and quite funky designs and they last too. It helps to pack the school bag the night before and include things like calculator, math’s instruments for each appropriate lesson. Detentions can be doled out for (what seems like) minor things and it can all seem a bit demoralising.

Schools communicating online - Much of the homework and letters could be on an online system, so ensure that you and your child have access. Some schools operate an online cashless canteen system, which is great security-wise and sometimes you can see exactly what they’re spending your money on!

Homework - Get into a routine with homework, either time spent day-by-day or a longer time over the weekend, whichever is preferable. You could also pre-warn your child that homework will no doubt increase in Year 8 and beyond.

The planner - Most schools operate a week one/week two schedule, which can seem daunting, but do a double-sided print out of the schedule for the notice board so that there’s only the current week on show.  The planner usually needs signing by a parent every week (detention if not signed!) so get that into the routine.

But most of all, reassure your child that everyone, no matter how confident and “big” they seem, were an apprehensive and worried Year 7s once.  People are there to help; your child only has to ask.

Read more of Jeannette's Blogs at Autismmumma