Selecting the Right Preschool Program for Your Child with Autism
by Diliana Henry
Starting preschool is a big milestone for your child. It may be the first time you and your child are separated for an extended period, and your child gets to experience the world without you for the first time. This time may be incredibly stressful for a family with a child who has autism. Preschool years are the time to “catch up” on developmental milestones and acquire foundational skills such as attending, waiting, following directions and social play.
A good preschool program will depend on the child’s needs and the family’s goals. The options often vary depending on state programs, school district’s strengths, family philosophy and affordability. Many school districts offer services for children with autism through a federal mandate called Child Find. These services may be several hours a week or a full-day highly individualized program with a skilled multidisciplinary team and anything in between. The Individual Education Plan (IEP) will outline the services that your child qualifies for based on an
Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) is a popular alternative to school-based programs for children with autism. ABA programs are highly structured, individualized and focused on supporting the family across settings (center, home and community). In addition to the day program at a center, your ABA therapist can assist with strategies for positive behavior at home, facilitate playdate and family outings and collaborate with developmental psychologists, speech pathologists and occupational therapists.
Private ABA programs are often funded by health insurance, rendering them inaccessible for some families. If your child with autism is thriving in a neurotypical daycare or preschool, you may consider bringing services there. This arrangement will supplement the program and take advantage of natural opportunities to work on social skills.
As you begin to explore the options available in your area, keep in mind these essential elements that are critical to your child’s success:
- Your team of therapists and educators listens to your feedback and incorporates your goals into the overall plan. No one knows your child better than you.
- Your team has training and experience in working with children with autism. The individuals who design and direct the program would have at least a master’s degree in special education, psychology, ABA and speech.
- You are provided regular progress reports and offered an opportunity to participate in your child’s program.
- Your child enjoys it. The daily interactions with all staff are positive and centered on your child’s well-being.
Finding the right preschool for your child with autism may seem like a daunting task. Trust your instincts and read the cues that your child is giving you.
Diliana Henry, BCBA, is the chief executive officer of BrightBloom and the mother of a child with autism. She and her husband Marcus founded BrightBloom in 2014 to offer center-based treatment options for other families dealing with autism spectrum disorder. BrightBloom has four locations in Delaware and one in Swedesboro, New Jersey. Visit brightbloom.com for more information about programs and services.