One of a child’s first major milestones is when he or she starts school. Parents look forward to the cute art projects, father-daughter dances, and miniature-sized cap and gowns, all yielding pictures that can flood friends’ Facebook pages. When you have a child with an Autism diagnosis, this vision of a typical school experience becomes more of a question than an anticipated event. This blog will address a common question with Autism parents: “Is preschool right for my child? If it’s not, what are the better options for him or her and for our family?”
Just like everything within the Autism field, I’m going to throw out the phrase, “It depends on your child.” I know that doesn’t give you the quick answer that we all hope for, but it’s the truth. When deciding if your child is a good fit for a preschool program, there are many things you need to consider.
How much support does my child need?
Before you can find an appropriate placement for your child, you need to really break down the areas where your child thrives as well as the areas where he/she needs support. You also need to be really honest with how much support your child needs. How independent is he/she? How does he/she handle larger groups? Are there safety concerns? It may be helpful to look at a list of skills that are expected in a preschool setting and make notes on how your child does in these areas. Your analyst at BCOTB can also help with this analysis by completing a Transition Assessment that scores your child’s skill level on various school-readiness measures.
What are my school options?
Just because Amy Sue and Johnny go to the preschool down the street does not mean that is the only choice when choosing a school. There are many school choices out there. Take a look at community schools, Montessori schools, and the schools designed for students with special needs. When I say, “take a look,” I actually mean call them, make an appointment, and request a tour and observation period. You know your child and how he/she functions in a variety of settings. Most schools will tell you they make accommodations for learners with special needs, and they do; however, you are the only one that can determine if a school setting has supports in place to help with your child’s specific needs. The best way to determine if a school is the right fit is to see it.
If not school? Then what?
Many children with Autism require a more structured environment in order to influence their learning. Although pre-school is part of the typical progression, it may not be the best experience to help your child gain the skills they need for later learning. It is recommended that children with Autism receive therapy services. Some schools may include therapy services within their environment but some do not. In that case, families look elsewhere for help with their child’s development. For some young kids, early intensive therapy, especially Early Intensive Behavioral Intervention (EIBI) may be a better option than pre-school because intensive therapu provides an opportunity to catch up on developmental and preacademic skills. Therapy services can also provide your family with the support that you need to help improve on your child’s school readiness skills in the home.
But what about the importance of socialization with peers?
Great question! This is a main reason why parents of children with special needs push for the school environment. They want their child to have the opportunity to thrive with peers the way that a typically-developing child would. However, socialization skills can be learned in many settings. School, therapy clinics, and community groups all have opportunities to work on social skills and interpersonal development. Finding a place where your child can grow and learn alongside of peers who are also growing and learning in the same way makes a difference. All children need positive role models from their peers to help them develop. When you have a child with Autism, it’s important to make sure that your child is supported in their social environment so that they can stand out for their amazing qualities instead of what makes them different. Again, you know your child best. Think about how they will fit into existing groups and choose a setting that encourages them.
BCOTB provides a therapy setting using Applied Behavior Analysis to work on individualized needs that help prepare kids for the next step. Our Child Advancement Track specifically targets school readiness skills and socialization with same-age peers. Our Child Advancement Track is for children ages 1.5-10 years-old, with three distinct programs based off age. Out Toddler Achievement Program (1.5-3.5) teaches beginning play skills and appropriate circle time behavior. Our School Readiness Program (3.5-5) teaches more advanced peer interaction and focuses on learning in a group setting. Our School Success Program (5-10) teaches children to be independent and to listen to a teacher in a class setting.
BCOTB focuses on growth and support to help children with Autism surpass their goals and be ready for life’s next adventure!