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When Your Autistic Child Starts Elementary School

Taking the Next Developmental Step for Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder

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When your child makes the transition from preschool to elementary school, he faces a new and unfamiliar environment. But, it's an exciting time too because you know that he is going to learn so much during the next few years.

It's easy for parents to feel anxiety and uncertainty about how their child will adapt to school and the many challenges ahead. You will feel more comfortable if you prepare for the transition to school with an introductory visit well before the start of kindergarten. Simply call the elementary school where your child will attend and ask for an appointment with the principal or special education supervisor.

Have a friendly conversation with the school professional to inform them that your child will be enrolling next year and to inquire about the educational environment and approach for children with autism spectrum disorders in the school. This school will be responsible for the transition assessment for your child's educational needs in kindergarten. Ask who will be on your child's assessment and IEP team and what information they will need from you.

This is a good time to schedule an evaluation with your child's regular treatment team. Their knowledge of your child and recommendations will be valuable information for the school's assessment and planning. Schedule this assessment for the fall or winter before your child leaves preschool. The school assessments will begin in the spring and planning for your child's transition to kindergarten will be accomplished by early summer.

You are probably able to determine most of your child's needs and wants, but you should expect a learning curve for the school personnel and your child to communicate. This is actually a great opportunity because your child will need to expand his ability to communicate in a new environment.

Think about the independent skills your child needs to learn to adapt to a mainstream classroom. You want her to spend as much time as possible with her peers where she will be motivated and encouraged to develop to her full potential. Where it fits, take advantage of technology to teach and facilitate communication and life skills. For example, you can use your computer to create pictures for the bathroom door that remind your child to go to the potty and to wipe her bottom.

Most school programs with children who have autistic disorders use a highly structured approach. As with all children affected by a disability, this is a vital part of the learning process. Expect direct teaching of adapted communication and social skills. Visit often and learn the techniques her school uses so that you can reinforce the learning at home.

Finally, as your child expands her world, so should you! If you haven't been involved in a family support group, this is a great opportunity for you to reach out and find mutual support and fellowship with other families who are affected by autism.

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