Schools across the country are seeing more autistic students within their classrooms. The increase in children that have a diagnosis within autism spectrum is not new, but it requires schools to focus on this growing population of their students. This also means that educators and therapists are trying to balance time to reach all of the students that need their support.
As children are getting diagnosed at earlier ages, it is more important than ever for them to be in programs with intensive therapy before kindergarten if possible. While not all children will need the same approach, early intervention specialists must help these children and their families to get started on their academic paths. When given the opportunity to participate in programs with specific approaches that work well with autistic children, kids on the spectrum will transition with fewer problems in kindergarten and beyond.
Michigan State University now has their Early Learning Institute that serves children and families with autism spectrum disorder. Three and four year old autistic children are currently in their program. Unlike other preschools, all individuals who work there are trained in applied behavior analysis (ABA). ABA works on the premise of rewarding and encouraging positive behaviors and discouraging negative ones. Unlike other programs that may utilize some ABA within the day, the Early Learning Institute uses it from drop off to pick up time for the child. In addition to this, therapists work with families to continue ABA therapy strategies outside of school. The rationale for ABA is that research has shown that it works well with most individuals on the autism spectrum.
The key to programs like the Early Learning Institute and others like it is looking at the individual needs of the child and supporting them across environments. Children must play and learn through therapy to incorporate all areas of their life. This includes social, emotional, physical, self coping, learning strategies, and more. School districts must with early intervention professionals in their community to see if programs like the Early Learning Institute exist in their city or town. When children and families living with autism spectrum disorder participate in these programs, it is a great time to reach out to them as they get ready to start kindergarten. More time spent observing them ahead of time will help special education teachers and therapists to get a jump start when they arrive in their classes and school.