New year & new routines: Tips for transitioning children who need structure

Preparing autistic children for a successful start to the new school year can feel daunting for parents. Whether starting school for the first time, moving to a new class or moving to a new school, the beginning of the year brings change and new experiences. Many parents wonder how their child will manage new friendships, navigate new environments and sensory experiences, and whether their teacher will be a good fit.

For a parent of a child with Autism or another Developmental diagnosis, these transitional periods can come with an additional set of challenges.

Here are some tips on working with your child’s school to make sure they get off to the best start!

Planning with your Child at Heart

Creating a plan to minimise disruption

As you and the school begin to plan for the new year, there are a few things to consider:

  • What goals does your child have for the year?
  • What strengths does your child have? How can these be nurtured to develop?
  • What support might your child need to make that happen?

TIP: Look for ways to allow your child to be part of the planning process for the new year.

Helping your Child to Prepare

There are many ways to support your child to feel comfortable as they prepare for the new school year. This might also mean helping your child develop new skills, especially if they start school for the first time or move to high school. You can help by:

  • Support your child to nurture friendships with those who have similar interests.
  • Help your child learn new routines and be organised- this might mean using visual cues to help get ready for the day or planning for when and how homework will be done.
  • Practise how your child is going to get to school
  • Reduce anxiety and uncertainty by helping take photos of new environments and people
  • Plan for your child’s sensory needs. Some children find new uniforms stiff or scratchy and may prefer second-hand uniforms that have been washed and softened. Practice wearing school shoes and socks.

TIP: Start preparing with your child early.

Prepare as a Family

Returning to school often means stepping (again!) into the role of advocate for your child.

  • Be a positive advocate for your child.
  • If you’re choosing a new school for your child, think about the school’s culture, what they can offer your child, and how practical it is for your family.
  • Plan for the new school year, and practise new routines, such as walking to school or opening and closing new lunch boxes.

TIP: Be positive about the transition.

Preparing the School

As a parent you bring a wealth of expertise about your child. The school brings their expertise, resources and strengths.

The new year may bring a new teacher, a new support team or even a whole new school. Planning for success might mean looking at making changes to the curriculum, the environment, or how learning happens to help your child thrive at school. You can help by:

  • Keep communication open- you’re all on the same team!
  • Get to know the key staff who will support your child, and help your child to get to know them too
  • Be open about your goals for your child
  • Be open about the adjustments your child might need and be flexible and realistic about what that might look like in the school context.
  • Many adjustments can be simple but make a big difference! Considering where your child might sit can help with sensory input and simple supports like visuals or reminders that will probably help the whole class.
  • Plan to visit your child’s new classroom before the first day
  • If your child is starting a new school, plan multiple transition visits so they know what to expect and who can help them as they get settled

TIP: Build familiarity between the school and your family in positive ways.

Working as a Team

There may be other people who have been part of your child’s support team along the way who can help to get the school year off to a great start! Including the input and expertise of people such as therapists, paediatricians, and others in their life can help to make sure that your child is getting all the support that they need. Think about:

  • What skills might be helpful for your child to build this year? Are there people who can support them in learning these new skills?
  • Are there people who can offer strategies or ideas for the new teacher and the new environment?
  • What is the best way for this team to stay connected throughout the year?

TIP: Communication is the key!


Amy Lanchester is the founder of Busy Brains Learning and a registered Developmental Educator with extensive experience and training as a disability specialist. She also has over 10-years of experience as a teacher in mainstream and special education settings.

Amy is passionate about advocating and working with children and adults with Autism to navigate the world better and create a space that celebrates what makes each of us unique.

Amy understands the importance of being across the latest evidence-based research. She draws from her extensive training to personalise her work to the needs of each individual and context.