For most children, a new school year is new. It indicates a time for change: classroom, teacher, sometimes peers, and content. It often involves a shift in expectations or responsibilities, even slightly. It may involve a new building, or daily schedule. For many, the newness is a welcome change, at least aspects of it. While human beings are generally "creatures of habit," change also plays its role to alert us, motivate us, and inform us. It is why we take vacations, for the change of scenery and activities.
However, for students on the Autism Spectrum, a new school year can often mean a replay of the old. Sometimes, this is imposed by design, such as the students are assigned to the same teacher as the previous year (which I do not recommend). At other times, it is because their tendency is to repeat and cling to the old way of doing things. Think of life as a movie. The scenes of the previous year have already been shot, and arriving to the same front door and seeing some of the same teachers, lead students on the Spectrum to believe it is the same. Until that is, we change it for them, and prepare them for the ever-changing scenes of life.
As educators and support staff of students on the Autism Spectrum, we must show them what is new and different, and encourage them to become a part of it. Part of my role as a consultant has evolved into supporting students and educational teams who are "in crisis." Often this means students exhibiting extreme non-participatory behavior, to the extent that they are borderline of not being students. My part, in addition to assessment, analysis and a proposed plan for change, is to personally represent the newness. I am the missing piece in a puzzle, that once found and adjusted, makes all other pieces fit.
Initially, it is often a struggle, since the student is typically quite frustrated or confused by the time I arrive. But when the thought clicks, that I represent the newness so desperately needed for the team to feel whole again, grace enters. Suddenly, the student shows that he/she is indeed interested, but just hasn't been presented this option or expectation to participate. It can feel "Magical," as a Director of Inclusion recently described; though truly it is science, with a dash of dignity. Change happens when we do more of what's working and less of what's not.
No matter what part you play for students on the Autism Spectrum, consider how to bring newness to the situation. It may not be easy; but it will only get much more difficult as time passes. Let go of what's not working and create newness; they will eventually thank you for it.