Helpful Strategies for Autism in Preschool Classrooms

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Preschool is a great time for children to work on social skills, following directions and routines, and pre-academic skills, such as colors, shapes, preschool classroomletters, and numbers.  Children with autism typically lack the appropriate social skills and interactions that typically developing children exhibit.  By integrating your child with autism into preschool, they can work on and improve their social skills.   Here are some strategies that can assist your child with autism in the preschool classroom:

Helpful Strategies For Children With Autism In Preschool:

  • Picture Schedules.  Make sure that there is a picture schedule of daily activities, so that your child is able to see what is happening throughout the day and can refer to it as needed, to stay on track and help with transitions.
  • Routine.  Some children with autism like to have a routine, and if there is a change in the routine, it can make them upset.  Try to have a routine in the classroom, and if there are going to be changes, try to tell the child as soon as possible so that they can prepare for this change.
  • Visual Stimuli.  Using pictures and different visual aids benefit children with autism since many are visual learners.  For example: pictures by the cubbies can help them hang up their jacket and backpack, pictures of children sitting in a circle for storytime near the classroom rug is helpful, and pictures of the classroom rules can help the child follow them. These are all great visual aids that can be used throughout the classroom.
  • Keep it Simple.  When giving instructions/directions, make sure to keep it simple, use concrete language, and pair them up with pictures and modeling.  In addition, do not provide too many instructions at once.  For more complex activities, break the instructions down into clear steps.
  • Avoid Distracters. When possible, make sure that the learning environment is not filled with the types of distractions you can control.  Areasthat are too noisy, too hot or cold, or that have bright lighting can make it hard for a child to focus and feel comfortable.
  • Coach.  During playtime, try to coach and teach the child how to appropriately ask a peer to play, share/take turns, ask for a toy/item, and be flexible on what to play and who goes first.
  • One-On-One Aide.  Some schools provide special supports and a one-on-one aide to work with the child.  This aide can provide a lot of teaching and coaching opportunities to help the child appropriately interact with others and engage in different social and academic situations.
  • Buddy System.  Try to pair children up into different groups depending on their level and skills.  You want to make sure that children who excel in certain areas are paired up with those that might need more help and practice in that specific area.  For example, pairing a child with appropriate social skills and who likes to talk a lot with a quieter child offers the two children the experience of learning from each other.  Through example, the quieter child may gain confidence in participating in the group, while the more outgoing student may become better at remaining quiet while the teacher is talking.
  • Reinforcers.  Use items and activities that are reinforcing to the child.  By using stimuli that the child is interested in, you can help them stay more focused and motivated.  Some examples of reinforcers that could be used are: stickers, stamps, and prize boxes with little items that the child can pick from.  In addition, provide praise and reinforcement when the child is appropriately interacting with others, following directions, and accomplishing academic tasks.
  • Homework.  Take the time to work on these skills at home.  Talk with your child’s teacher to find out what academic skills they are working on in the classroom, and be sure to incorporate them into your daily routine at home.  In addition, arranging different play dates and outings for your child will provide the opportunity for your son/daughter to continue to work on social skills in different situations while you coach and guide them as needed.
When having your child in preschool, be sure to keep the above strategies in mind and work with the teacher to implement them in the classroom if they are not already in place.  Also, take the time to practice the pre-academic skills as well as the social skills at home.  A positive experience in preschool for your son/daughter will help lay the necessary building blocks for continued success, both academically and socially, throughout their entire school career.

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Katie Sadowski

Katie Sadowski, MS, BCBA, is a board certified behavior analyst. She graduated from Southern Illinois University – Carbondale with a Master of Science in Applied Behavior Analysis Therapy and a Bachelor of Science in Rehabilitation Services. Throughout her college career, she worked with many different populations in several different settings. Katie has experience working with children and adolescents with autism and developmental disabilities, individuals with traumatic brain injuries, as well as elders with dementia and Alzheimer’s in different settings like day camps, school settings, residential placements, and inpatient hospitals.

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4 replies
  1. Kristin Smith
    Kristin Smith says:

    Great advice! You make a wonderful point that preschool is so important to building the academic and social foundations needed later for success.

    Reply
  2. Gsadowski
    Gsadowski says:

    This is a very informative blog with excellent ideas! In preschool as a precursor to a child’s formal education it is important to meet the individual’s needs as to prepare him/her for the next level. A good foundation is very important to build upon.

    Reply
  3. Ro Su
    Ro Su says:

    Thank you for explaining autism so clearly and in an easily absorbed style. Your suggestions are helpful for family members and other people who have even casual contact with autistic children.

    Reply

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