AAoM held a back-to-school event at Corner Health in Ypsilanti on Aug. 16.
Each year, back-to-school time is an important and exciting event for both parents and children. Prioritizing children’s health and wellness is the first step toward ensuring they are prepared for a successful school year and able to fully participate in learning.
Tisa Johnson-Hooper, M.D.
"Back to school is a critical time to assure all children are as healthy as possible to start the year off with a great start,” says Tisa Johnson-Hooper, M.D., senior staff physician and medical director at Henry Ford Health and Autism Alliance of Michigan board member. “Vaccinations, wellness checks, developmental screenings and mental health are all areas we as pediatricians and family practitioners will address."
It’s easy to get caught up in all the back-to-school hype. Before families know it, August is gone, and teachers are taking attendance. Families can ensure their loved ones living with autism are prepared to get the most out of their education experience by following these five recommended steps from the Autism Alliance of Michigan (AAoM).
1. Prioritize routine health and wellness screenings
Children cannot participate fully in school without a routine health screening. Kids must be up to date on pediatric appointments, developmental screenings, and routine vaccinations. Of course, now might be a good time to reevaluate their COVID vaccination status. Effective and safe COVID vaccines and boosters are still available for children of all ages and may prevent COVID from disrupting their everyday routines.
“Preventative health and developmental screenings have always been the key to better academic outcomes,” Hooper says. “Children, especially those with risk factors such as developmental delay and autism, will perform more optimally when they feel good and/or when proper supports can be provided to address learning challenges."
According to the Kennedy Krieger Institute
, “People with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) faced a greater risk of hospitalization and mortality when infected with the coronavirus' ' due to commonly co-occurring diagnoses. Navigators at AAoM's MiNavigator Program
can help families and individuals find autism-informed physicians and health centers that accommodate sensory sensitivities.
Kids must be up to date on pediatric appointments, developmental screenings, and routine vaccinations.
2. Schedule vision and hearing checks
Vision and hearing checks are important before going back to school. Children on the autism spectrum are more likely to have vision issues than the general population including near- and far-sightedness, eye movement disorders, and astigmatism. Children who have not received updated vision checks may experience eye strain, headaches, behavioral issues, and difficulty with comprehension. A lot can change in one year. A child who passed a vision or hearing screening last year may have difficulty with a screening this year, especially if they have had medical issues or changes.
3. Don’t forget the dentist
Children should receive their first dental check within six months of their first tooth eruption and every six months thereafter. Teeth that come in incorrectly can lead to breathing problems or other dental disease. In addition, neglecting dental health can lead to mouth pain, which can spread throughout the face and body. Children on the autism spectrum may have difficulty expressing that they are experiencing dental pain, so routine checks are imperative. Dental checks can also uncover previously undiagnosed medical problems.
AAoM has built a world-class team of experienced advocates and professionals to support people on the autism spectrum.
4. Pay attention to mental health
Mental health is just as important as physical health. If a child has experienced mental health challenges before, it can be beneficial to establish them as a patient with a mental health professional rather than wait until there’s a crisis. Mental health professionals often have long waitlists. And it may take several attempts to find a professional that a child feels comfortable with.
“This time of year can be especially stressful for children with autism who are adjusting to new classrooms, schedules, teachers and classmates,” said Colleen Allen, president and CEO, AAoM. “One of the ways we serve the autism community is by providing important resources that help ease the back-to-school bumps for individuals with autism and their families.”
Parents should normalize taking care of mental health just as they do physical health. The transition back to school can trigger feelings of stress and anxiety for parents and children. Mental health support services can help every family member, not just the child with autism.
5. Make a safety plan
Peace of mind comes with establishing a comprehensive safety plan for children. AAoM offers a safety kit inclusive of life at home, school, and out in the community. If a child tends to wander, AAoM can help families access a wearable GPS tracking device. Completing AAoM's emergency contact form that includes a photo of the child identifies them as an individual with a disability and designates who to contact in an emergency and then sharing it with local law enforcement is an effective preventive measure. AAoM safety kits also include fingerprint cards, school safety booklets, information on riding public transportation, identifying decals for homes and vehicles, and more. The AAoM safety kits as well as additional information and resources are available on the AAoM’s Safety Program
Any Michigander in the autism community who needs help accessing information and resources can count on the Autism Alliance of Michigan for help.
Sharing these five steps is only part of AAoM’s effort to make Michigan a better place to live for people with autism and their families. AAoM Navigators can assist families with identifying services, assisting with insurance coverage, and locating clinical providers close to home. The AAoM resource directory
and community calendar
can help identify local venues with training in autism accommodations, everything from choosing an enjoyable family outing to selecting events to connect with other families for fun and education.
AAoM also offers an “Autism 101” training to school districts, parent advisory committees, therapeutic offices, physicians, and others. Those interested in scheduling an “Autism 101” training are invited to fill out the collaboration request form
AAoM has built a world-class team of experienced advocates and professionals to support people on the autism spectrum and identify pathways and bring light to the challenges they face. AAoM works to develop solutions that help people in Michigan access basic care, navigate their civil and legal rights, and explore appropriate education and employment opportunities. Any Michigander in the autism community who needs help accessing information and resources while navigating an often-fractured system of support can count on the Autism Alliance of Michigan for help. To learn more, visit: www.aaomi.org
Photos by Moon Reflections Photography & Videography
Colleen Allen and Tisa Hooper photos and logo courtesy AAoM.