My 6-year-old daughter was diagnosed with autism when she was 3. We have been doing lots of intervention and she is doing well. She speaks clearly and is beginning to read. She is friendly and would like to play with other children but is not very good at it yet. She has been teased by some of the kids in her kindergarten class. She can get easily upset if things do not go the way she expects them to go.
She will be starting first grade next year in a new school. What should we be doing to help prepare her and what should we ask the school to provide? She is academically on grade level and the school is planning to place her in a regular first grade class.
Dear Concerned Parent:
It sounds like you have found a number of strategies that work for you daughter. You might start by creating a notebook that describes her strengths, her challenges and strategies that work for her that you can share with her teacher next year. You might also begin to create a notebook with pictures of the new school and as much other information as you can get about it. Ask the school to let you know who her teacher is at least two weeks before school so you can get a picture of the teacher and some basic information about what the first day of school will be like. You can then write a story for your daughter about what will happen and what she is expected to do (a social story).
It sounds as if the two biggest issues for your daughter are social skills and flexibility. One thing that often helps with flexibility is a visual schedule so that she can see what is happening. This also allows the teacher to use the schedule to indicate when things are different while letting your daughter know that there is still some sort of routine. Other visuals such as timers and a cue to indicate a warning that activities are about to change may be helpful.
Social and play skills take time to develop. It will be helpful over the summer if your daughter has a chance to play in a play group with more experienced peers. These can be siblings, cousins, or neighborhood children. You can explain to the other children that your daughter is having a little trouble learning to play. You can point out that they are experts at playing and they can help her improve. Then give them a few ideas on ways that they can help her engage. Be there to supervise or coach but don't run the show - let them play.
You also can ask the school to create a similar group with supportive peers on the playground or at lunch. Some children take a peer with them to such pull out services as speech or occupational therapy to work on play skills. Teachers should definitely watch for any indication of teasing or bullying. With early elementary school children it can be effective to do a short presentation about autism to the class a few weeks after school starts, giving them a chance to ask questions.
Dr. Barbara Luskin, PhD, LP
Autism Society of Minnesota