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Is your child ready to go back to school? Or should we say, as a parent, are you now ready to send your child to school amidst Covid-19? Life during the outbreak of COVID-19 has been difficult not only for parents but also for children. People of different ages have adjusted to what everyone now call as the “new normal”. Wearing of masks, religiously washing of hands, social distancing, use of sanitizers and alcohol from time to time are only few of the many routines people follow nowadays. Simple as it may seem, living in this new normal is difficult for everyone, especially for a child, but for a child with Autism, it can be even more challenging due to changes of routine and sensory challenges.

As the world continues to learn more about COVID-19, schools in the UAE have decided to return to classroom learning after 6-month of online or distant learning and summer vacation. As a parent of a child with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) who is enrolled in a school, the reopening of schools surely made you feel anxious, but worry no more as this article is here to help you with a list of guidelines to make your child’s transition back to school as safe and smooth as possible.

At The Doris Duan-Young Autism Center (DDY), they focused on teaching children to understand the current situation we are living in by using effective principles of Applied Behavioral Analysis (ABA). These strategies include Behavioral Skills Training (BST), Social Stories and Positive Reinforcement.

BST is an effective way to introduce and practice new skills. Dr. Miltenberger defines BST as “A procedure consisting of instruction, modeling, behavioral rehearsal, and feedback that is used to teach new behaviors or skills.” (2004, p. 558). And that is exactly what it is, a 4-step teaching strategy that works!

Let us break down each of the steps:

Instruction – Provide a description of the skill, its importance and when and when not to use the skill. The instruction can be individualized for your child’s skill level.

Modeling – Show your child how to perform the skill by doing it yourself.

Rehearsal – Practice, practice and practice! Allow your child opportunities to practice the skill.

Feedback – The trainer should provide positive praise for correct responding and some form of corrective feedback for incorrect responses (i.e., “I love how you put the mask on your face.” (Positive Praise) “But make sure you cover your nose.” (Corrective Feedback).

Now let’s try implementing BST when it comes to wearing a mask:

Instruction- “We must wear a face mask to cover our mouth and nose every time we leave the house. This way we won’t get sick!”

Modeling- Family models wearing a mask every time they step out of the house so your child sees the behavior.

Rehearsal- Create opportunities to exit the house so you can have your child practice wearing and keeping a mask on.

Feedback- Make sure you provide positive and corrective feedback. For example, “I love how you put the mask on your face.” (Positive Praise) “But make sure you cover your nose.” (Corrective Feedback).

Another strategy that DDY implemented was the use of Social Stories about COVID-19 such as Wearing of Masks, Washing of Hands and Social Distancing. Practicing these Social Stories would be a great idea so your child can start to adapt to these changes in an actual setting. You can start to bring them with you when you go to a grocery store, short trips to the mall, play areas that practices social distancing and etc. Through this, it will allow your child to actually see the new routines they need to follow. This would also give them more practice which is an important part of BST.

After being out of school for 6 months, your child’s school routines are likely non-existent. Their environment and surroundings has been limited to your home, they had a lot of free time to play and their sleeping patterns might be out of control. Getting back to their school routines such as sleeping early, waking up early, and completing homework might be a challenge. To help your child get ready for school, DDY has designed their therapy sessions to get children back to school mode. For example, we set routines, place demands, practice academic skills, review school notes, practice wearing face masks, teach them to follow center rules such as social distancing and how to practice self-hygiene procedures at all times.

Furthermore, as a parent, you can also confirm with your child’s respective school the specific list of rules to follow so you can start orienting your child and even better, prior to returning to school, confirm with your child’s school if they can allow you to pay a visit to see their preparedness against this unseen enemy, and if this will not be possible, you can request for a video from your child’s teacher that will serve as a virtual tour around the new look of the school’s premises.

Every person in the world is making changes to their daily routine and life in order to live with this “new normal”. A child returning to school is a positive opportunity to feel a bit of normalcy and continue to further their education. With the right plan and practice, this transition back to school can be smooth and safe. Children with ASD may require extra planning and practice; however, at DDY we know they are just as capable of adapting and thriving in their learning environment. The above suggestions are just a few ways DDY is helping their children prepare for school and encourages all families to use the tips that will best help their child during this transition.

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