As a teacher, there isn’t much that is more challenging than getting a new student in the middle of the year. We brave a forced smile and of course welcome the student into our room with open arms but internally we are having a small panic attack. You mind is racing thinking of the potential challenges like how to find an 11th matching homework bin because you only have 10 (and they have to match, duh). But seriously, it’s a lot. It’s okay to feel frustrated or even annoyed. Let yourself have that moment and then move on. Don’t complain to your staff about it. Don’t even let yourself be annoyed for too long. It’s not this child or parents’ fault. If you go in with a bad attitude, the situation will be worse. I promise you. So put your superstar teacher pants on. You got this.
Give the student a September. Remember our goal of September. It was all routines and reinforcement? Just because the rest of your class has moved passed that and are ready for academics, short breaks, and challenging work doesn’t mean your new buddy is. You still need to give him time to learn the new routine and you need to establish yourself as a reinforcer. The expectations will be different for him than the rest of the class. They should be. He is brand new. He needs his “September” too. It’s tempting to try and just catch him to where everyone else is but that may not be the best option in the long run.
Start with the basics. Keep the schedule simple, keep the work simple, and use loads of visuals. Give as many tools to this student to learn the new environment, what behavior is expected, and how should navigate this new classroom.
Give a clear way to communicate. Even if the student has some verbal skills, give access to some visuals or a PECS book. If the student is very verbal, reinforce and respond to every communication attempt. The goal now is teaching the student that we understand him and want to communicate with him. Putting restrictions on communication right off the bat, may punish communication in general. So at first, let communication run free and add those restrictions later.
It’s okay if your attention is pulled during this transition time. Sometimes the rigidity issues that are associated with autism are worse in the special ed teacher than the students. This is a change and changes are okay. Read yourself a social story to calm you down. I know you were in the middle of a really cool guided reading group book or making loads of progress with one student on his social emotional goal – but you’ve gotta switch gears. Your attention will be pulled from its regularly scheduled programming to help your new student transition. It’s okay. It’s your job. You can jump back into to those super exciting activities you were doing but for now – this student needs you more.