Each year, back-to-school time is an important and exciting event for both parents and children. Prioritizing the health and wellness of children is the first step toward ensuring they are prepared for a successful school year and able to fully participate in learning.
As part of the Autism Alliance of Michigan’s efforts to make Michigan a better place to live for people with autism and their families, it is providing five key steps families must consider how to prepare their children for a happy, healthy return to the classroom.
Prioritize routine health and wellness screenings
Children cannot participate fully in school without a routine health screening. Kids must be up to date on pediatric appointments, developmental screenings, and routine vaccinations. Of course, now might be a good time to reevaluate their COVID vaccination status. Effective and safe COVID vaccines and boosters are still available for children of all ages and may prevent COVID from disrupting their everyday routines.
Schedule vision and hearing checks
Vision and hearing checks are important before going back to school. Children on the autism spectrum are more likely to have vision issues than the general population including near- and far-sightedness, eye movement disorders, and astigmatism. Children who have not received updated vision checks may experience eye strain, headaches, behavioral issues, and difficulty with comprehension. A lot can change in one year. A child who passed a vision or hearing screening last year may have difficulty with a screening this year, especially if they have had medical issues or changes.
Don’t forget the dentist
Children should receive their first dental check within six months of their first tooth eruption and every six months thereafter. Teeth that come in incorrectly can lead to breathing problems or other dental disease. In addition, neglecting dental health can lead to mouth pain, which can spread throughout the face and body. Children on the autism spectrum may have difficulty expressing that they are experiencing dental pain, so routine checks are imperative. Dental checks can also uncover previously undiagnosed medical problems.
Pay attention to mental health
Mental health is just as important as physical health. If a child has experienced mental health challenges before, it can be beneficial to establish them as a patient with a mental health professional rather than wait until there’s a crisis. Mental health professionals often have long waitlists. And it may take several attempts to find a professional that a child feels comfortable with. Parents should normalize taking care of mental health just as they do physical health. The transition back to school can trigger feelings of stress and anxiety for parents and children. Mental health support services can help every family member, not just the child with autism.
Make a safety plan
Peace of mind comes with establishing a comprehensive safety plan for children. AAoM offers a safety kit inclusive of life at home, school, and out in the community. If a child tends to wander, AAoM can help families access a wearable GPS tracking device. Completing AAoM’s emergency contact form that includes a photo of the child identifies them as an individual with a disability and designates who to contact in an emergency and then sharing it with local law enforcement is an effective preventive measure. AAoM safety kits also include fingerprint cards, school safety booklets, information on riding public transportation, identifying decals for homes and vehicles, and more. The AAoM safety kits as well as additional information and resources are available on the AAoM’s Safety Program web page.
AAoM Navigators can assist families with identifying services, assisting with insurance coverage, and locating clinical providers close to home. The AAoM resource directory and community calendar can help identify local venues with training in autism accommodations and can help with everything from ensuring an enjoyable family outing to selecting events to connect with other families for fun and education.
If you need help accessing information and resources while navigating an often-fractured system of support in the autism community, the Autism Alliance of Michigan stands by ready to help. To learn more, visit: www.aaomi.org.