Thanks for your question – it’s an excellent one!
My first piece of advice is to find a community of parents and professionals with whom you can share your trials and triumphs. The Autism Society is organized by state, and the states have chapters in different cities. They offer support, advocacy services, information, and parent education. Autism Speaks is another national organization for parents.
Second, start your daughter on the path to self-advocacy by talking openly and regularly about autism – it’s a fact of her life. The book store on the Autism Society website has excellent books for kids. It’s vital to present autism to your daughter as a challenge, not as an excuse.
I have in the past talked to fourth and fifth grade classes about autism (at the request of the parents and even the child) when social issues caused problems in the classroom. This has been very successful. I don’t know who is available in your school system, but a knowledgeable school psychologist, special ed teacher, or guidance counselor can be very helpful.
Some schools offer guidance groups that focus on social skills, and autistic kids with IEP’s can have goals for social skills training. I have a grandnephew with high-functioning autism (he’s going into fifth grade), and social skills training has been very positive for him.
Four different teachers in fourth grade is difficult! Go over to the school before school starts and walk her through it. Ask that a teacher or a buddy walk her through the first couple weeks of school as well. Write down the schedule, make it a routine, do it the same way every day, and warn her in advance if the day will be different (assembly, field trip, testing, etc.). Written schedules are very helpful to autistic kids, and predictable routines are absolutely necessary. It also helps if different teachers keep the nuts and bolts of the classroom the same – where to put your name and date on the paper, how to turn things in, how to get permission to go to the bathroom, how to ask for help.
And that reminds me that asking for help is often extremely difficult for autistic kids. Sometimes it works to have a colored index card that a child can put on the desk to signal that he/she needs help from the teacher.
I hope that this helps. Good luck this school year – and let me know how it goes!Alice