Preparing Your Child with Autism for Kindergarten
By Sheri Homishak, BCBA
Three Important Tips
Going to Kindergarten is a huge milestone in a child's life. This transition into school can be both exciting and a little scary at the same time; and for parents of children with autism, additional challenges are often involved. Some simple ways to help ease the transition to Kindergarten are:
1. Talk about it in advance.
Most children with autism do much better in new situations when they know what to expect and what will be expected of them. One of the easiest ways to help your child know what to expect when they enter Kindergarten can be simply talking with them about it ahead of time. Even for children with limited speaking ability or those with deficits in expressive language, telling them beforehand where they will be going and what they will be doing can help relieve overall anxiety and help them prepare.
Make sure to talk about going to school in a fun way and discuss a full variety of aspects related to Kindergarten and their new routine, such as: riding the bus, meeting their teacher, seeing their new classroom, making new friends, eating in the cafeteria, playing on the playground and meeting other new people who can help them (e.g. the nurse, the librarian or the school counselor).
2. Schedule a time to take them on a “tour” of their new school.
Arranging a time before school actually begins for you and your child to tour the school can also be very helpful. This can give your child an opportunity to meet their new teacher and many of the other school staff that will become a regular part of their new routine. They can see what their new classroom will look like, visit the cafeteria and the library, and often even play on the playground for a short period of time. It is often best to arrange a time to visit the school when school is out and other children are not present. This prevents your “tour” from disrupting the teacher’s daily routine and also allows your child with autism to visit without being potentially overwhelmed by a lot of noise and activity going on. Most schools will readily work with you to accommodate this request.
3. Use pictures and other visual supports to help prepare them.
In addition to simply talking with your child, it may also be helpful to create or provide some visual aids to support the new things they see on their visit or that you have been discussing with them. Most children around the age of 5 years old need pictures to support their communication and solidify their ideas.
Pictures can often help to make abstract concepts more concrete or easier to understand. While cartoon or clipart style pictures can be fun, it can also be helpful to use actual pictures of the new environment they will be entering. The pictures can be used in a variety of ways including creating a small photo album, creating a slideshow on your phone or computer, creating a social story to read to them by adding a fun narrative about school to the pictures, or even just using them in a “flash card” style to discuss and play with. Here’s an example of a social story with real pictures of the child’s classroom.
Following these three simple suggestions can often help to reduce the stressors associated with change for both you and your child during this transition into Kindergarten. It may also be helpful to talk to other parents who have gone through this transition before, and resources such as Autism Speaks or even Facebook can often be used to help you locate support groups in your area. Additionally, if you have been told that your child will have an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) or 504 Plan, there are free advocate services available to help you navigate and understand the meeting and planning process involved. You can also contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org to be put in touch with our own Parent Advocate.