(Austin American Statesman) For all kids, starting back to school might be a tough adjustment: Getting used to the routine of going to bed early, waking up early and actively engaging the brain all day.
“Families that have been totally on summer vacation, sleeping in until noon or 1, where the daytime is unstructured, those are the families that are going to have the hardest times getting back to school naturally,” said Dr. Michael Reardon, a pediatric neurologist at Pediatrix Child Neurology Consultants of Austin.
For neurodivergent kids, those with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, autism and other differences, getting back in the routine can be especially difficult.
Locally, Austin, Bartlett, Hutto and Manor school districts start on Monday; Dripping Springs, Elgin, Hays, Lake Travis, Luling and Pflugerville on Tuesday; Bastrop, Burnet, Coupland, Eanes, Giddings, Granger, Jarrell, Lago Vista, Leander, Liberty Hill, Lockhart, Marble Falls, McDade, Round Rock, Taylor and Wimberley on Wednesday; Florence and Georgetown on Aug. 18; San Marcos on Aug. 22; and Smithville on Aug. 23. The Dell Valle school district started classes on Tuesday and Thrall on Wednesday.
Here are some things parents and all kids can start doing leading up to next week — things that might be especially important for kids with brain differences:
- Work on engaging the frontal lobe of the brain. “People who have ADHDhave a relative delay in the frontal lobe,” Reardon said. That shows up as attention difficulties and impulse control. The frontal lobe is the area of the brain that does problem solving, executive function, paying attention and completing things. Do puzzles, board games, reading a book — anything mentally engaging.
- Start picturing and planning for the return to school. These activities activate the frontal lobe, Reardon said. Sort through what school supplies you might need, what your daily schedule will be, what clothes you want to wear, what clubs you want to join. It’s the process of planning for the day. This also is a great activity for kids who have anxiety, as well.
- Start going to sleep earlier and getting up earlier. Put away electronic devices such as cell phones at night. Consult with a doctor if you might need something like melatonin to help you fall asleep during this transition.
- Start being more physically active. Physical activity is not only healthy for the whole body, but activities such as sports, gymnastic, dance, swimming or martial arts help kids with preplanning and strategy, having a goal and seeing it through, as well as self monitoring and self awareness of the body, Reardon said.
- Work on measures to control stress and anxiety. Those things can interfere with the ability to concentrate or control impulses. Build in a few minutes a day of just concentrating on your breath. This practice makes it easier to do when there is a high stress or anxiety moment.