"Learning is not the product of teaching, learning is the product of the activity of learners"
~ John Holt
This month, our theme is The Big “S”! None other than…. SCHOOL! One of the most common queries we get from parents is “When will my child be ready for mainstream school?” Though at times, even if this question is easier to answer according to the more advanced capabilities of a child with ASD, there are still several factors to be considered.
Based on our experience working with and serving clients with ASD, there are several pre-requisite skills that a child with ASD must have before we can address placing the child in a mainstream school. A common assumption is that if the child is verbal and shows overall cognitive competence, he/she is ready for mainstream school. Other essential skills may be easily overlooked. Some important skills necessary for a child with ASD to thrive in a mainstream school are-
Sitting still is a skill that is necessary for the child to be in a state ready to learn. If the child is unable to stay in his/her seat, it can be very disruptive to both the child’s own attention and learning, but to other students as well. Often, we hear of complaints from class teachers of children with ASD disrupting the rest of the class by running around or by constantly having to be told to stay seated (which takes a lot of the teacher’s attention away from teaching). Therefore, it is important that this skill of sitting and staying in-seat is acquired prior to commencing a mainstream education.
This is a very important skill, as there will be many situations in which the child will have to endure prolonged periods of time without having access to something they want, or before being able to do something. If the skill of waiting has not been acquired, situations like these can lead to increased frustration during school hours. Another component of ‘Waiting’ is the child being able to keep his/her hands to themselves during learning. Sometimes, teaching material can be really fun and tempting to play with! Although it is great that the child shows interest in the teaching material, excessive handling of the material (when it is not the child’s turn, or when the teacher is busy preparing for the lesson) can be disruptive to both the teaching and learning process.
Attending to the correct stimuli
Being able to pay good attention is such a crucial skill for a child with ASD to have before being able to attend mainstream school. Again, if a child seems fairly competent in terms of language and cognitive functioning, but has a very short attention span or inability to focus, this may be cause for concern when considering starting school. Keep in mind, the child would have to be able to refer to the correct things based on listening to a teacher’s instructions (i.e. “Go get your textbooks and turn to page 4, read that, then do the exercise in the workbook on page 7”). An instruction like this involves listening, referencing and identifying the textbook, the workbook, the pages and carrying out the response. All of this falls under good and sustained attention. Another form of good attending in a classroom is attending to non-verbal instructions. If the rest of the class is doing something, the child should be able to take notice and follow the group behaviour to demonstrate good responding. We may hear teachers giving feedback such as, “He doesn’t listen to instructions” or “She is always dreaming while the other kids are doing what they’re supposed to do”, this can be an indication that the child requires some assistance with learning to pay good attention.
As we know, children with ASD may struggle a lot in this area. Communication is very necessary in the school setting (also, always!) for a number of reasons. First and most importantly, the child needs to be able to ask for help. When a child with ASD is struggling in the classroom, asking for help is the most surefire way of alleviating any anxiety or preventing possible frustration/outburts. If you are unsure if your child has this skill, be sure to consider this when thinking about placing him/her in school. Another important form of communication is asking to go to the bathroom. Towards a more social purpose, being able to “report” when in discomfort or upon any instances of bullying as naturally, a teacher may overlook certain behaviours of other kids towards a child with ASD in the classroom.
Some children with ASD may be sensitive to certain stimuli (i.e. loud noises, big crowds, bright lights). If this is the case for your child, this should be a big factor when considering mainstream school. A lot of stimuli are out of our control and these could trigger the child if his/her tolerance isn’t built up yet. Besides tolerating certain stimuli, it is also important for the child to be able to tolerate different types of food, physical contact and even being told off! Tolerance is extremely essential to the overall learning process and maintenance of good ‘school behaviour’.
Social skills can be very difficult for children with ASD to demonstrate! Some are socially-drive, whereas some may not be. A child with ASD does not have to be the ultimate social butterfly to be able to attend school, but pro-social behaviour does indeed help! Can your child be around other kids and maintain good behaviour? Does your child show interest when other kids are playing? Is there a history of problematic behaviour towards other kids? All these are questions worth asking before considering school. Poor social behaviour can be a downfall of a child’s school experience, and can raise other concerns involving other parties. Appropriate social play and making friends are two important components of a successful school experience, besides learning. Therefore, we would have to consider the obstacles (if any) that are in the way of these.
Now that we’ve gone through some of the necessary skills for school, let’s go into how we at Autism Link can help!
We have successfully transitioned mainstream-capable clients from 1-on-1 therapy to school based on our individualised programs encompassing all the above, and more. Our school-readiness programs are systematically designed to cover basic and advanced skills. Another thing we place a lot of importance on, is the support of our therapists for the child in their new school setting. This greatly helps with the transition process, and allows us to identify and solve issues that may newly arise (if any!). This also gives parents a lot more security and assurance, as daily updates are communicated.
Have any questions or concerns regarding your child’s capabilities to thrive in a mainstream school?
Feel free to contact us here at Autism Link for enquiries and services!