Choosing a preschool is never an easy task. When you're looking for a preschool for a child on the autism spectrum, you've got even more to consider. School environments can push the boundaries of some of the most common struggles for kids on the spectrum, including the social aspects. Many kids on the spectrum struggle with recognizing social cues, making eye contact and communicating effectively. The right preschool can make all the difference in providing the support your child needs to start coping with and overcoming some of those difficulties. Here are a few of the things that you should think about as you evaluate preschools for your autistic child.
Consider The Layout
Preschool is a time to focus on learning through play, so you want to be sure that the environment you choose encourages this. One of the best options for kids on the spectrum is a classroom that's broken up into "stations" or "zones" because it encourages experimentation and exploration.
Kids on the spectrum often struggle with fixations, focusing heavily on single types of objects or a specific toy. By choosing a preschool room that's divided up into different areas or stations for play, your child will be encouraged to check out each area, experiencing a variety of things from each one. Most play areas like these also include pictures to help kids understand how to use items in the area. Since visual prompts and reminders are strong teaching tools for kids on the spectrum, this is ideal.
Check Out The Toys
With so much time spent interacting with toys in the classroom, you need to be sure that the available options will be engaging for your child. Most kids on the spectrum have their own unique sensory preferences for toys, so think about what your child likes and any problematic sensory triggers.
For example, many kids like toys that are bright or move in some way. Other kids may prefer toys that are soft or things they can cuddle. In addition, look for stations that incorporate multiple senses to get more engagement. Kids on the spectrum often like things like trampolines, bubble blowing, sensory bins and different types of balls. Not only are they things the kids can touch, but they engage other senses, like movement, smell and sight.
Look For Social Support
In most preschool environments, the kids are able to interact, collaborate and even build friendships on their own. For kids on the spectrum, this isn't as easy. Without the social intuition required to respond to the subtle social cues and body language or an understanding of expectations and communication steps, kids on the spectrum often feel like outsiders looking in.
You'll want to find a preschool that offers support for kids who are still struggling socially. For example, look for preschools that provide multiple assistants in the classroom so that there are helpers there to encourage and guide your child through social interactions. You might even be able to find a preschool that offers an autism support program that provides therapy for kids on the spectrum to help overcome some of these common difficulties.
When you find a preschool that you think might be a good fit for your child, bring him or her to the classroom to observe and experience it. While this kind of exposure is good for all kids, children on the spectrum really benefit from seeing the environment and familiarizing themselves with it before they are expected to attend. It can reduce the anxiety of the unfamiliar and minimize the risk of meltdowns. If possible, meet the teacher and helpers in advance so that your child sees familiar faces. With these tips and the support of a preschool teacher who understands spectrum disorders, you're sure to find the right environment for your child.
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