Preschool is a key period of social development in which children learn to follow instructions and build basic academic skills, such as letters and numbers. For kids on the autism spectrum, that often means a bigger learning curve. If you have a child on the autism spectrum, you'll want to make an effort to talk with his or her teacher before school starts so that you can make sure that everyone has your child's best interests at heart. Here are some tips that you can pass on to the teacher to help make the classroom environment a successful one for everyone.
Build Picture Schedules
Many kids on the autism spectrum need to have picture clues to help them predict the path of their day. A picture schedule of daily activities will help to ease the unpredictability of a new environment. Use images of people actually doing the actions in the schedule whenever possible, or clear graphic representations.
For example, for lunch time, use a picture of kids sitting in the cafeteria. For Bible Study, you can use an image of the Bible or a picture of an actual Bible Study lesson. These schedules help to ease the transition from one activity to another for kids on the spectrum, because they will be able to reference it at any time to see what's coming up during the day.
Maintain a Routine
Kids on the spectrum typically thrive on routine. Talk with your child's teacher about the importance of establishing as much of a routine as possible. In most cases, lunch time and recess will happen at the same time every day, so if it is possible to plan other schedule transitions the same way, it can make it easier for your child to adapt. If the week includes some changes in that routine, it's important that the teacher let you know in advance so that you can help your child prepare for it.
Use Simple Instructions
Show your child's teacher how to communicate with him or her. All instructions should be made in a simple, concrete manner and then supported with either action modeling or pictures. This can be more difficult in the case of trying to reinforce spirituality lessons and core values, so work together to find clear representations of these lessons or social story examples to help reinforce those points.
One of the selling points of a Catholic school for any child, especially a child on the autism spectrum, is the opportunity to reinforce a sense of belonging, support and stewardship that may not always be found in a mainstream public school. To help a child on the spectrum understand these expectations, ask your child's teacher to spend time coaching him or her in some of the social interactions.
And, when possible, look for a class where your child's classmates will be equally supportive and understanding while he or she is learning these expectations. Things like how to take turns and how to share don't come naturally to kids on the spectrum. Also, lessons on the proper peer interactions and flexibility about the type of play during each interaction will help these kids make friends in this environment.
Consider a Buddy Program
With a focus on forming supportive relationships, instituting a buddy system may help kids on the spectrum to build those connections. In a Catholic school environment, this may be easier simply because the children can bond over a shared faith. Suggest that the teacher separate the kids into teams based on their skills and their academic levels. The goal is to create a group that is balanced with kids who are strong in different areas. For example, part of a group for your child might include someone who is strong socially, because your child may need those skills. Similarly, if your child excels in an academic area, adding someone to the group who struggles in that area creates a perfect opportunity for mentorship.
Before you place your child into a preschool of any kind, you'll want to be sure that it's a nurturing, supportive environment. A Catholic school with staff equipped to help him or her succeed may be the perfect atmosphere to encourage both academic and social growth. For more information, try checking out a Catholic school online at http://www.cadets.com.