Guest Blogger: First Day of School | Organization for Autism Research

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Lynn Hudoba is the mother of a beautiful and amazing 6 year old girl with autism. She was born and raised in Chicago, and graduated from the University of Illinois with a B.A. in Finance. Before becoming a mom, she worked for 20 years in the business world. Lynn was drafted into the Autism Army in 2006. She currently resides in the suburbs of Chicago, and is a full-time foot soldier fighting everyday on behalf of her daughter. Lynn blogs about her experiences “My Life as an Ungraceful, Unhinged, and Unwilling Draftee into the Autism Army.”

My daughter Audrey is 6 1/2, and has just experienced her fourth first. Day of school that is. Each first day of school has been unique and I’ve learned so much since the preschool years, when I didn’t have the slightest idea of all of the tools and techniques that were available to help her with such a huge transition.

By the time of her kindergarten year, we had developed an in-home therapy program for her which is run by our fabulous ABA (Applied Behavior Analysis) consultant, Amy. It was through Amy that I learned about social stories, and these have proven to be the most valuable tool of all for Audrey.

Social stories are just that…stories. Little stories that are written from the child’s perspective, taking them through certain new or anxiety-inducing situations and setting expectations for outcomes, as well as their behaviors. I always joke that the moral of every social story is “You are scared to death to this, but you are going to have the time of your life doing it.” And you know what? It works like a charm. At least for Audrey. Because she can read, she rips them out of my hands when she sees me coming at her with a new one — like she’s getting hot news fresh off the wires. Something about seeing it in print and reading it to herself helps her to internalize and process what she is about to experience.

But a child doesn’t have to be able to read to get the benefit of a social story. The stories can be read to them, and using lots of pictures helps to illustrate the salient points. The most important social story that I ever wrote was for Audrey’s kindergarten year last year because she was starting a new school that is 25 miles from home. We visited the school ahead of time and I took pictures of the school’s sign and her classroom to add to the story.

One little page, with 128 words and 5 pictures. That was all it took to make the difference between a painful and a painless transition. Of course, not all of them have gone that smoothly. This year, I got lazy. She was returning to the same school, so I thought we could wing it. And then I found out that there was a new kid in the van that transports her to school. And the aid that rode along in the van (whom Audrey adored) was no longer on board. And the school had moved into a new space, which I knew, but didn’t think it would be as drastic as it was. And Audrey had a new one-on-one aid at school. And the school’s bathrooms had been wallpapered: one with tulips and the other with seashells. For some reason, the seashells threw her for a loop and she refuses to use that bathroom. OK, so even if I had written a social story, I clearly couldn’t have anticipated every little change that came her way. But maybe if I’d covered everything else, she would have been able to handle new wallpaper.

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