As we approach the summer months and a new school year is around the corner, many of you may be asking yourself, “Is this the right time for my child to transition from ABA treatment to a school environment?”
Starting school is a major event in any child’s life and while for children with disabilities this transition can be challenging, this is particularly significant for children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). The unique social, communication, and behavioral difficulties that children with ASD experience may present additional barriers to a positive start to school.
ABA professionals play a very important role in helping children maximize their learning in the school environment, and reduce disruptive, and interfering problem behaviors. These behaviors may impact learning and may cause the child to miss out on the multitude of social opportunities a school can provide.
To ensure a successful transition, it is imperative for the family and therapy team to work together to plan for a systematic and smooth transition into a new environment - classroom with a new teacher, new expectations, new systems of reinforcement, new classmates, and new skills to learn. This is particularly relevant since teachers rate social skills as more important than academic skills for successful kindergarten adjustment. An increasing body of evidence supports the notion that children who have a positive start to school are likely to engage well and experience academic and social success. Children with ASD have a greater risk of poor school outcomes including emotional and behavioral problems and bullying that result in school exclusion or peer rejection. It is therefore critical that protective factors, as well as barriers to positive school transition in children with ASD are identified and understood.
In the event your BCBA or you are beginning to determine whether your child is ready to transition to a classroom environment, we wanted to provide you with a series of questions on school readiness that may be helpful in ensuring your child will thrive in a school environment.
What are the essential skills my child needs to succeed?
- Does my child demonstrate grade-level or above scores on reading, math, language arts, and other core curriculum areas?
- Does my child demonstrate age-appropriate social skills (responding to peer requests, awareness of personal space, initiating communication and flexibility in interactions, etc.)?
- Does my child demonstrate age-appropriate classroom engagement for everyday activities? (following instructions, paying attention, waiting in line, working independently, hand-raising, staying seated during academic tasks etc.)?
- Are they able to transition from preferred activities to non-preferred educational tasks?
- Is my child able to learn in a group environment with distractions? Can they complete tasks independently?
- Does my child demonstrate age-appropriate play skills, including managing the expectations of structured play opportunities like gym class and unstructured play opportunities like recess or free-choice time?
- If my child has gaps in some of these areas, how much teaching does he or she need to learn new skills?
What does the classroom need to be like for your child to succeed?
Once you’ve identified the skills and behaviors your child will need to succeed, it is important to consider what type of classroom environment will be the best choice for your child.
- What are the qualifications and skills of the classroom teachers that would help my child succeed? Does your child need a teacher who provides frequent praise and positivity? Does your child need a teacher that gives clear instructions and will help minimize distractions?
- Does the school need to have prior experience working with students who are newer to mainstream placements? Do the administrators and support staff have a background in working with unique learners?
- What ratio of students to instructors will be the best for my child? Is there a way to identify a smaller class size where my child is likely to receive more 1:1 attention?
- What about the physical environment? Does my child need a large, open classroom? Bright, cheery lighting? Or will my child benefit from a school with fewer distractions? The ability to have a desk or locker close to the teacher.
If there are significant skill gaps, how will they be addressed before your child begins?
- Of the gaps identified, which ones does your BCBA think need to be addressed before transitioning to a classroom placement? Is this part of your child’s transition plan?
- If your child has skill areas to build on (e.g., below grade-level reading), are there tools and supports at the school that can help address these needs? Can your child benefit from the same types of support the school offers to other students?
- If the classroom teacher or classroom environment could benefit from changes, is the school willing to make any modifications or reasonable accommodations?
- Are there additional supports that can be included at the beginning of the transition to the mainstream classroom (part-day vs. full-day schedule, social skills groups, additional paraprofessional support, daily parent reports, etc.) and gradually faded as your child gains more skills?
When it comes to school placements, it’s best to identify as many of the variables that might impact the outcome upfront as possible. The more you can prepare your child, the school, and your family for the transition, the more successful it’s likely to be.
If you are a Behavioral Innovations client, you know that school readiness is our goal. If you are considering transitioning to a classroom setting, work with your BCBA on developing this process from determining readiness to the best placement.