How Can We Prepare A Child with Autism Into Mainstream Schools?
Transitioning from one stage in life to the next, in this case going from kindergarten to primary school, can be overwhelming especially for those on the spectrum. These transitions require a change in environment and routine which may likely bring about high levels of stress and anxiety to these children. However, with the right steps to progressively introduce and ease them into their new routine, it can make this transition a much smoother one for your child.
This is one of, if not, the best way to introduce your child to the new environment. It should be done so gradually, sometimes even up to a year prior to your child attending the school. You can start by simply walking or driving past the school regularly on your way to your intended destination to help your child see it as part of their daily routine. Over time, you can bring your child for a tour around the school to the different venues, such as the classrooms, canteen, and playground, to build familiarity with the environment. Additionally, you may show your child the school uniform and school bag they would be bringing to school and gradually get your child to put them on too to reduce their anxiety. Ideally, you should also show your child photos of their teachers to increase familiarity and comfortability.
Use Social Stories and Activity Schedules
Social stories and activity schedules are extremely useful in reducing your child’s stress in relation to entering the new school environment. These visual aids help them adapt to and anticipate the series of events that will occur throughout the day, by enabling them to understand the cues and actions for different situations. Some examples of social stories you can include are of how your child will get to school and back home, as well as who would be the one sending and picking them up from school, and the process of purchasing food and drink items in the school canteen. These social stories should include information on where, when, who, what, and how of the situations.
On the other hand, the activity schedule should consist of pictures of the different school activities throughout the day and arranged in a sequential format from the start to the end of the school day. If your child has grasped the concept of time, you can further reduce their anxiety of transitioning into a new environment by doing up a countdown calendar to the day they start school.
Practice Habits, Behaviours, and Routines Expected in a School Setting
Practicing expected behaviours and school routines increases your child’s ability to adhere to class routines and rules which will enable them to function better in large group settings. Some habits and behaviours you can work on with your child are staying seated during a lesson, raising of hand when they need to ask a question, listening attentively when a class is being conducted, and queuing up in an orderly manner when purchasing food in the canteen.
Teach Basic Social Skills to help them in the process of making new friends
Lastly, children with ASD were found to have significantly more challenges in the area of social interactions than their other peers in school. Thus, social and communication skills training is a crucial factor to consider in preparing your child with ASD to enter a mainstream school. Social skills is a strong determinant of how well a child with ASD adjusts to their new school environment as it enables them to forge and sustain friendships with their classmates, as well as communicate their needs across. Some of the most basic social skills you should teach your child in preparation for going to a mainstream school are initiating conversations with others by introducing themselves to their peers, responding to the initiation of others, turn taking, understanding body language (non-verbal cues), emotion regulation, and perspective taking. Equipping your child with these skills will allow them to form meaningful relationships with others in school. As a result, this creates a warm and welcoming environment for your child to continue to grow, and reduces the risk of peer rejection.
In conclusion, change is never easy especially for individuals on the spectrum. However, with patience and systematic gradual steps in the right direction, a change in environment and/or routine can be made less daunting and stressful for your child with ASD.
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