How to Choose a Preschool Program for a Child with Autism

July 17, 2017

Before becoming a BCBA, I had the privilege of teaching at a preschool for children with developmental disabilities in South Florida for a few years. I’ve met with numerous parents and during every open house, parents always expressed their concerns for the school year. From hearing their thoughts and questions, I can understand how choosing the right preschool program for your child can be a tough decision. It can be unnerving if you are unaware of what to look for when deciding on programs. Here are a few tips to help you through this difficult process.

When you are interested in a school, it is important to set up a meet and greet with the site. This is a time when you can meet with administrators, program coordinators, and sometimes teachers and specialists to ask them questions. It is important to tour the school and classrooms to get a better feel for the environment.  Some important questions to ask them can include: what the curriculum looks like, are there opportunities for integration, what is the average class size, what a typical day looks like, and how open is the school to outside consultation. The openness to outside consultation is extremely important.  Not all schools are equipped to provide the amount of services each child needs. For example, some schools may have speech pathologists, occupational therapists, and occasionally BCBAs; however, they may only be available to see your child for brief or limited sessions.  Many families seek outside services and through these providers, more in depth plans and recommendations are developed.  When a school is hesitant to meet with outside providers, hinders observations, fails to communicate or implement outside recommendations, the person that suffers is the child. It is important to see how each school handles the coordination of care for their students.    

Something else to consider is the atmosphere of the school. When going to observe, think to yourself: Do the children seem happy and engaged? Are they busy? Are the teachers showing enthusiasm and are they walking around the classroom the majority of the time working/playing with the children? Does the classroom look colorful with displays of children’s work products and are visuals located where the children can utilize them to assist them in increasing independence? Visual schedules are an important tool in the classroom.  This shows an organization of the classroom routine and demonstrates another opportunity to provide independence throughout the school year. These visuals, along with other visual prompts should be faded out over time, but having them in place in the beginning lets you know what the expectations are for the children.

Another tip to consider is the ratio of teachers to children in the classroom. The smaller the ratio the more possibilities there are for your child. This is important because if your child needs more assistance with certain activities, you can feel comfortable knowing that there is an aide available to make sure your child is able stay on task as well as teach them throughout the activity if the teacher is assisting someone else. The small ratio also benefits your child because they are able to get the one on one help they may need whereas if they were in a large classroom with only one teacher and aide, they may fall behind because the extra help is not available.  In the smaller ratio classroom, the lead teacher is able to teach to the class while other assistants can help prompt children as necessary and make sure the classroom is set up and ready for the next transition.

These are only a few tips to help you find an appropriate preschool program for your child. We know that this is a difficult decision to make and there are a lot of factors that go into choosing a program.  If you need further assistance, we at BCOTB are here for you and will help answer any further questions you may have.

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