By Kris McElroy
Back-to-school time is a huge transition time full of different emotions and to-do tasks. As a autistic parent with chronic illness & disabilities, there is an excitement mixed with anxiety, stress, and overwhelm as we prepare for the fall season kickoff of work and our 2 year old to start her preschool program. My therapist reminded me to focus on what I can do to prepare for this season to help both give space to the feelings while also managing them in a healthy way (something I am always working on).
Here are the top 8 tips I have found helpful in preparing for the upcoming back-to-school season:
1. Evaluate schedules based on needs and energy conservation techniques.
Looking at your schedule ahead of time can not only save energy mentally and physically; it can also create space to make a plan and arrange priorities to support everyone in the family getting their needs met without overextending anyone. I’ve found this especially goes a long way as a parent with multiple disabilities. Everything from school drop-offs and pickups, to household tasks, work schedules, and more can become very overloading and trigger a flare-up at the drop of a hat. So, we are starting now as a family to look at our schedules to see what we can do to save energy as back-to-school season begins.
2. Prepare in small amounts spread out across time rather than large amounts in short time periods.
I used to fall into the habit of doing all my paperwork or laundry at one time. Even trying to get my daughter ready for school in the mornings while also preparing lunches, school & work bags, and getting ready for the day could often look like a chaotic whirlwind. This often left me exhausted and needing to recover for the rest of the day, if not longer. So I started trying to break tasks up into smaller amounts spread across time. We split prepping for the day between the night before and the morning of while also sharing tasks.The 4 loads of laundry one day a week, became 2 designated days with the addition of everyone putting their laundry in the wash each day and running it when it became full. It was amazing how much more manageable this felt, let alone lighter.
3. Communicate as a family.
It’s easy in the midst of transitions, changes, and full schedules to forget to check in with each other and communicate as a family. Sometimes it can be helpful to think of ways to bridge barriers that can make communication harder with each other during these times. Trying ideas such as a text or groupme chain, audio messages, family calendar apps, and setting up uninterrupted time on the schedule each day or week to communicate about important things and to check in – all can be helpful. Discover as a family what this could look like for you as we prepare to begin back to school and the start of Fall.
4. Seek support. Support can look like a lot of things. See what may be helpful for you and your family.
- Support Groups
- Extended Family, Friends, Neighbors
- Community Resources
- Adaptive Equipment, Fidgets, Sensory Toolkit, Reminder Systems, Coping Tools, etc.
5. Involve children/family in preparations.
Whether it is school, work, or extra curricular activities, involving children & family member in different aspects of preparing such as picking out clothes, assisting with grocery shopping, getting backpacks/lunches ready, helping with cleaning such as picking up toys or loading the dishwasher can be rewarding. It can help conserve energy and ease the load while creating opportunities to teach responsibility, autonomy, & teamwork as a family.
6. Make space for feelings & experiences as an individual and a family unit.
Transitions can bring up a lot of different experiences. It is important from a holistic health lens to make space to explore, communicate, process, and express the many feeling & experiences that come up before, during, and after transitions take place. It is important for each individual to have this space and for a family unit to create this space collectively as it will assist in our overall health and wellbeing.
7. Communicate with employers, school professionals, and providers. Living with chronic illness and disabilities can be challenging.
For me, there is an unpredictability that is embedded into each day not knowing how my mind or body is going to interact. I do my best to use adaptations and accommodations. But, since becoming a parent the phrase “it takes a village” has taken on a new meaning. It has involved communicating with employers to adjust my work schedule based on when my energy is the highest; checking with the school to see when the most accessible drop off/pick up times and locations are; using the app provided to communicate with teachers; and working with my providers on tools I can use and working through medication side effects.
8. Make a plan to practice self-care and balance.
As to-do lists grow and schedules fill, it can be easy for the scales to tip and find trouble fitting in self-care. But, it is essential and helps balance the scales as well as ourselves and our family unit. So, use reminders, find what you enjoy, and build minor & major acts of self care into the daily, weekly, and monthly calendar.
Kris McElroy is a freelance writer, artist, and advocate. He is passionate about social justice issues and exploring race, disabilities, gender identity & sexuality, mental health, identity, trauma, and intersectionality. Born and raised in Maryland, Kris is an autistic biracial black transgender man with multiple disabilities who enjoys spending time with his wife and family. He received his Bachelor of Science in Psychology from the University of Maryland and a Master of Science in Multidisciplinary Human Services from Capella University.