September is a transition time; employees return to their normal workload, families return from their summer vacations, and students return to school. Last year, I wrote a blog on how I, an Autistic person, was able to successfully transition from middle school to high school. My transition into 10th grade was much smoother. I haven’t had a single panic attack in my first week of school, which is incredible. I felt comfortable with my teachers from day one, something I never experienced until now. So what was the key to my success? A lot of planning.
Part One: August
What you do in August is just as important as what you do in September. This is when you re(gain) contact with your administrators and receive your schedule/teacher list. There are a couple of things you can do in August which will help you feel more confident and will help you stay grounded in the weeks to come.
First, I would recommend that you relax. This is your last chance to have a long vacation until December. Relaxation will look different for everyone. For me, it involves reading and exploring Cape May. I also spent time with my dog Simmy and with my grandparents. Why is relaxation so important? If you stress for a month ahead of school you will be more likely to stress during school. If you get your mind distracted you will be in a better headspace when it is school time. I didn’t start stressing until the week before, and it wasn’t that consuming until the night before. By the end of my first day, my anxiety had vanished, I had pushed my anxiety into a brief window of time.
Next, reach out to friends from school. No, seriously. You need to do this, especially if you are Autistic or may be socially anxious. Talking to your friends before school will help you prepare better for the social landscape that school is. People change over the summer so it is always important to check in with them. This is also a good opportunity to set a time to hang out. When it is the first day of school you don’t want to overwhelm yourself, but being social can’t hurt, when you reestablish yourself early on you will be more socially secure as the year progresses.
Lastly, you need to reach out to teachers. Every year has new teachers and you don’t know who you will be dealing with, especially if you need extra support, like me. Reach out to your school counsellor, and ask them if they can send an email on your behalf. This email should be introductory and explain who you are, and what extra support you may need. Remember you know yourself best! If this is difficult to write out, get a friend, a parent or that school counsellor. I’d recommend everyone do this because it gives you a leg up on the first day since the teacher already knows a little bit about you. You also need to meet with all of your teachers briefly in person or over zoom. I did this and it was fantastic. While you can explain more in an email, you can get a better understanding of your teacher by just talking to them for a few minutes. This will give you an understanding of who you need to speak to more, and what you can expect from their class in terms of workload and demeanour.
Part Two: September
This is the transition. Eat a full breakfast on your first day. Trust me, I don’t usually feel hungry at the beginning of the day but you need to be well-fed because the first day is always the most exhausting. Many schools begin their first day with an assembly. it is going to be long and boring, take a fidget with you, it will help you pay attention. This is also when you socialize with your classmates for the first time, so utilize your opportunity. After your assembly, most of your day will consist of introductions from your teachers. Take mental notes. This is also where you make the most important decision, where to sit. I always recommend sitting in the front, you can get the attention of the teacher if you need to step out and you can more easily see the board.
After the first day, the real work will begin. You will notice that some challenges are gone, but you are navigating some new ones and some are renewed. I will be sure to talk about some of these in a future blog. If you can tackle a problem in these first days, you are likely to do better later on. Find a point person either at home or at school (a dean, parent, etc.). Explain to them the issue that is happening. Then work together to find a solution by looking at what previously worked, brainstorming ideas and doing research. But one way that could be even more helpful is asking other people you trust for input - multiple minds are better than one.
These first days will also help you better understand your teachers and perhaps new classmates. Take mental notes. If there is ever concern your first stop should always be to your point person, and talk to them about the concern. The next step is to talk to the teacher, sometimes you may feel comfortable talking to them by yourself but the most important thing to do is to feel comfortable. If you feel most comfortable with another adult in the room you should do that. The last thing you need to be doing is stressing out over this meeting.
Part Three: October
October is just as important for your school year as September is. You will likely will be dropping extracurriculars that don’t fit you anymore and simultaneously joining new ones. You’ll be receiving your first significant assignments in October and may have your first group projects. October is a time to just relax and get used to the flow of school. I recommend taking this time to reacclimate yourself to the social scene; spend time with friends, plan fun activities for the weekend and, lean into more of the social aspects of your extracurriculars. The year is going to become more academically difficult so this time is precious, use it wisely.