Autism: Successful Transitions to School
At the Verbal Behavior Center for Autism (VBCA), we provide one-on-one Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) Therapy to children diagnosed with Autism. Every child with Autism is extremely capable of learning and acquiring new skills. Therefore, our primary goal is to help each child gain the repertoire necessary to be successful in a more typical classroom setting, whether that is a Regular Education classroom, a Special Education classroom, or a combination of the two. The skills that must be developed in order for a child with autism to achieve success in a traditional classroom setting are:
1). Following group instructions. Most instructions within a classroom setting are given by one Teacher to a large group of children. Therefore, a child must be able to specifically attend to that instruction, and follow through with that instruction. This also requires “tuning out” all other distractions within the classroom.
2). Imitating peers. So much of a child’s learning comes from watching and doing what other children do. If a child happens to miss the Teacher’s instruction to “Turn to page 5 in your Math book”, then peers are a great resource to determine the expectation. A child simply needs to look around the room, recognize that his/her peers are opening up their Math books and then do the same.
3). Engaging in independent work. Although following group instructions is necessary within a classroom, it is also necessary to work independently when needed, without additional prompts. Independently working on tasks can be difficult for children with autism, therefore, this is a skill that should be practiced and mastered before attending a traditional classroom setting.
4). Initiating play interactions. A significant component of the school experience is the opportunity to foster social relationships with other children. Therefore, learning to initiate play is a key component in allowing friendships to establish. Once friendships with other children have been established, it becomes easier for the child on the autism spectrum to engage in stress-free social interactions.
5). Learning from the natural environment. There is so much to learn from the world around us. Once a child with Autism establishes the repertoire to learn from their environment, and not simply learn solely from what is directly taught, he/she will be equipped to be successful in a classroom setting.
This year the VBCA celebrated the graduation of seven of our students. We very proudly held a graduation ceremony to celebrate the successes of these wonderful children and all of their accomplishments. It is happily reported that our graduates have had much success in their transitions to school.
Megan Mulherin, the mother of one of the VBCA’s graduates, Sean (5 years old) reports, "Thanks to all the help Sean received at the VBCA, he has successfully transitioned into a mainstream Kindergarten class. The teachers tell us that he blends in with his classmates so well that they wouldn't pick him out as having an Autism diagnosis! He loves school and can't wait to go back every day."
Children with autism are extremely capable of learning and oftentimes integrating into a mainstream classroom setting. However, in order to help a child achieve that objective, clearly defined goals regarding what is required to be successful in a classroom setting are essential.
Dr. Breanne Hartley, BCBA-D
Clinical Director of the Verbal Behavior Center for Autism