Early schooling: Autism support in your child’s journey
If a child has Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), then finding the best support to help them on their journey can never start too soon. In fact, the earlier the better, as early intervention has demonstrated lifelong benefits for children with autism.
ASD is a neurodevelopmental condition characterised by repetitive behaviours and impairment in verbal communication and social interaction. It is not a condition kids (or adults) ‘grow out of’. Rather, with the right support in place, they can lead happy and fulfilling lives.
What is early childhood intervention and why is it important?
According to Autism Awareness Australia, ‘early intervention’ is about providing therapeutic interventions as soon as possible. The goal being to support each child to develop to their full potential. Studies have also shown that in the years before starting school, this intervention can be particularly beneficial.
This is because young children have rapidly developing brains. They are like sponges, absorbing and learning from the world around them and growing in every possible way. As a matter of fact, the first two years of life are a time of intense neurological growth. From birth to around five years we also learn more than we do at any other time in our life! As such, early intervention therapies received during these responsive years can have a lasting impact.
An early intervention program is tailored to each child, depending on their autism diagnosis and assessed needs. There is no ‘one size fits all protocol’ and indeed, many parents find this an overwhelming and confusing process.
The good news is, there is lots of help available to assist parents and their children on this journey. Speaking to the child’s paediatrician or diagnostic team is a good first step to get the ball rolling, and to also access NDIS funding (if you haven’t already). Parents can also join community and online autism groups to discuss and share experiences with parents on a similar journey. Find more helpful tips on what to do after receiving an autism diagnosis.
How Mable can provide with autism support
Through Mable, you can connect with Independent Support Workers in your area, such as occupational therapists, speech pathologists, social workers, psychologists and more. Support workers registered on Mable also have access to the Autism 101 training program on Mable’s Learning Hub.
Autism and early schooling
You may also be thinking about future schooling options – which include autism schools among others – even if your child is yet to don a backpack!
Talk to your child’s preschool about their autism diagnosis, it’s a great opportunity for educators to support the child’s journey. Being trained professionals, they will have some great ideas. For example, they might use visual aids to assist in the child’s learning and set up a quiet tent for self-regulation.
Some centres will also be welcoming of early intervention therapists visiting your child on-site.
Different autism schooling options
Although it may be a few years off, thinking about future schooling options is a good way to help you to plan ahead. But what are the best schools for a child with autism?
Primary school options for children with ASD include mainstream schools, specialist units in mainstream schools, specialist schools and homeschooling.
With regards to specialist schools, however, it should be noted that there are developments currently happening in Australia to move away from specialist schools and towards inclusive education.
Let’s look at each:
Mainstream schools for children with autism
Lots of kids on the autism spectrum go to mainstream schools (both government and private) with the mainstream education system being much more autism-aware these days.
If the child meets the criteria, they will also be given additional support in the form of specialist teachers, aides, staff training or resources. Some mainstream schools even have classes specifically for autistic students.
Specialist autism schools
Specialist government or private schools cater for children with a range of abilities. Some are also just for children with autism. However, as mentioned above, there is a push currently for moving towards a more inclusive educational system.
Homeschooling children with autism
Although an option available to all parents, learning and practising social skills is vitally important for children with ASD, so it’s a good idea to connect with local homeschooling groups for play and fun.
Dual enrolment for children with autism
Through dual enrolment, children with autism can attend different schools in a week. For instance, they could spend part of the week at a mainstream school and the other learning at home.
How to choose the right school
Choosing the best school for a child with autism will depend on many factors. Generally speaking, one can find out a lot about the schools in their local area by asking other parents (especially those with children on the autism spectrum), preschool teachers and going to open days.
Learning about the school’s approach to diversity and inclusion, as well as what sort of learning support programs are in place, can help parents feel confident in their choice.
Transitioning children to school
Once the school has been decided upon and the enrolment is complete, parents can and should meet with the school to discuss a support and learning plan. By working with the school, the child’s therapists and preschool, together everyone can make the transition to school a smooth one for the child.
Orientation visits, where parents and children view the school grounds and an actual classroom, are invaluable for helping kids on the autism spectrum feel prepared for school. A lot of comforting discussions and reading books about this at home is also a great way to prepare for this transition.
Parents can also speak to their child’s occupational therapist to make a bespoke social story about them going to school. This is a story told in pictures and uses the child’s name and the school name, along with images of their school. It’s a kind of ‘heads up’ and helps children with autism feel excited, rather than anxious, about the change.
Setting your child up for lifelong success
Supporting a child with autism in the early years will give them a great start on a journey that is for life. Early intervention and thinking about the best autism school options are helpful steps to take at this time.
Change of any kind can be a bit challenging, not just for children with ASD but their parents and carers too! So, it’s a great idea to engage an independent support worker through Mable, to help you organise things before your child starts school. Preparing the child in practical and emotional ways, including building independence and school-readiness skills, will help them to walk into this next chapter of their lives feeling confident.
Learn more about engaging a support worker to help your child transition to school.
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