My Child with Autism Starts Preschool

Posted on

Today my son starts his first full afternoon in preschool.  The Granite School District has a preschool specifically for children with autism, and I must say I am impressed with what they are doing.  The teacher is currently working on her masters degree in Special Education at the University of Utah, and there are 3 aides working with her in the class of 10 students (they cap the class at 10).  We attended the Open House yesterday afternoon to meet the aides and the teacher.  All of them were well prepared for Jonathan, and were actually quite impressed with his abilities.  Of course, nothing brings pride up higher for a parent than to hear their child praised.  The techniques they use in class are pretty standard when it comes to Special Needs.  They focus on backwards chaining and targeted, consistent requests.  Backwards chaining is pretty self-explanatory.  Children are helped through their tasks until the very end, when they are then able complete the rest of the task by themselves.  A couple of successful completions later, they are then left to do more of the task on their own, always at the end.  This progresses until they can complete the task on their own without any help or prompting for initiation.  This process is actually very effective overall when working with children of all abilities.  It's the easiest way to feel accomplished while learning a process in that they complete the process each time on their own, while progressively learning how to complete each step of the task.  The child is able to remember more of the task because they have completed the end of the task more times than the beginning, meaning that end of the task becomes second nature.  I've even used the same process while trying to memorize speeches, lessons, or lines in a play.  The next technique they focus on is one I can't quite remember, at least not what it is called.  The process is pretty clear though.  You make your request in as few positive words as possible (Jonathan, please sit down).  You then count 5 seconds in your head, waiting for the request to register.  If it does not, then you make the request with more urgency (Jonathan, I need you to sit down please), and then wait another 5 seconds.  The final time you make it urgent and let the child know you will help them complete the task (Jonathan, I need you to sit down now and I will help you).  Every request is made within 3 to 5 feet of the child for their comfort, and every request is made positive.  The distance is necessary, particularly for children with autism.  Autism is usually accompanied with highly acute senses, usually visual or auditory.  As such, children with autism tend to see and hear everything.  You have over 20 people talking at once?  A child with autism can hear them all, often distracting them from a conversation.   As such, it's necessary to help the child focus on one thing.  If you are trying to talk to them from across the room, they will be too distracted to understand, and ignore your requests.  Too close, and they will feel threatened (little tip I got from Super Nanny!).  3 to 5 feet is ideal for children with autism as it keeps them comfortable and allows for focus.  And then there is the positive aspect.  Children with Autism will often not hear the "don't" or "won't" of a statement.  You can't tell a child with autism "Don't run!" because they just hear "Run!".  This has been the most difficult thing for me to work on.  I'm pretty relaxed in my parenting skills, generally letting my son explore his surroundings and learn without interference.  If it means a little bit of cleanup, that's just part of the experience.  So when I do step in, it's usually to keep him from doing something that could be destructive, damaging, or hurtful.  That usually means saying, "don't".  I've had to rethink my statements for my son, which has been a challenge.  So far, in my one half day of trial, it's been very effective.  So all in all, I'm very impressed and excited about my son attending a Public school.  The teacher knows what he needs, and I've seen her interact.  We know what his lesson schedule is, and how to help him learn along with the class.  I'm looking forward to working more closely with the classroom, and even taking some time off to see them at work with all 10 students.