Back to School: Autism and Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD)

Summer vacation is nearly over and parents are getting their children ready to go back to school. This transition is difficult for all children and can be especially challenging for children with autism.

This article is the first in a series of three that will address some of the challenges parents of children with autism face when preparing their children to go back to school at the end of the Summer vacation.

According to Beth Arky,  in an article she wrote about Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD) for the Child Mind Institute, « SPD and autism spectrum disorder are often thought of in tandem because the majority of children and adults on the autism spectrum also have significant sensory issues. » Symptoms of SPD may include resistance to being wet, high or low pain threshold, throwing temper tantrums when it’s time to get dressed, eating non-food items such as dirt and stones and crashing into walls and people, to name a few atypical behaviors.

During the summer months, children with autism typically have more freedom to spend time barefoot and run freely. At the end of the summer, the child is required to adjust to school routines again including going to bed and waking up at a certain time, getting dressed and out the door in the morning, keeping socks and shoes on all day, eating meals at particular times and following classroom instructions.

The change in season may be challenging for a child on the autism spectrum as well. A change in temperature and length of days may also affect the behavior of a child on the autism spectrum.

The National Autistic Society (NAS) offers many tips for helping your child with autism and SPD feel comfortable in their environment and adjust to sensory changes as easily as possible. The NAS recommends three steps for helping to prepare your child for the sensory experiences they will face when they go back to school : « be aware, be creative (and) be prepared » ( This involves adapting the environment in any way possible to meet the child’s particular sensory needs, providing the child with positive sensory experiences and talking to the child about possible sensory experiences they may face at school.

For more information about SPD and autism, you can read The Out of Sync Child by Carol Stock Kranowitz.