Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder in Kindergarten

“When the teacher asks all the children to come to a playground or sit in a circle, does she have to call him more often? Is he slow to come, or does he come right away? Does he seem to be listening to the instructions and following them, or does he watch what the other children do, and then follow the children? If, for example, you find he is slow to follow instructions, then I would spend time in the program at home playing games and doing exercises to help him with this skill, so he can “practice” In this way, making it fun, but also really working on this as a skill for him to have for school.”

“Verbally how is he? Does he talk more or less than when at home? Is he louder than the other children, or is he using a “natural” voice? If they have unstructured, or “free-play” – how does he do? Does he answer children when they talk to him? How is his attention span? Does he leave group activities, or can he stay and be a part of it until it is finished? Does he rush activities? Taking a turn – when he is “called on”, does he respond or ignore the request? Does he seem to have trouble with this in any way? If so, how? Physically: is he okay being touched by other children? Touching them? Is he too rough?”

These questions are the ones that parents are worried about their children with an autism spectrum disorder. Education plays an important role in the lives of children and their families. Kindergarten is a vital pathway for supporting children’s learning and development and for raising concerns about a child’s development.

Choosing a kindergarten can be tricky when your child has an autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Whether you decide on mainstream or special one, your child has the right to the same educational opportunities as all other normally developed children.



Kindergarten is part of the golden window of opportunity for working with children on the autism spectrum. During the early childhood years, kids are growing and developing at an amazing rate, and this is the ideal time to help the child learn to connect with others, regulate his or her senses, improve communication, and practice many other skills. Whether you are a parent of a child with autism or a teacher of a special needs classroom, there are activities that can help.

“Alexis spends his time at kindergarten talking to the teacher and other adults about his favorite topic which is dinosaurs. He knows a lot about dinosaurs! Alexis often plays with dinosaur toys and he doesn’t like other children to play with them. On the other side, there is Annika. She plays with other children at kindergarten and often directs the play of the other children. She likes everyone to keep to her rules and problems arise when her peers want to change the rules as she can’t negotiate with them. Alexis and Annika both have autism spectrum disorder and their autism affects them in different ways”

How to Prepare Your Child with Autism Spectrum Disorder for Kindergarten


If the child is preschool age, parents should start researching activities for children with autism in kindergarten. Learning about kindergarten activities for children with autism can help parents to decide how to plan their child’s education. They want to find kindergarten educational activities that help their children with autism learn and address any developmental concerns.

The transition from preschool to kindergarten is a major step in the life of all children, both normally developed children and children with an autism spectrum disorder. For kindergarten to be most successful for children with autism, the individual needs and developmental concerns of each child must be met.

The formal education of a kindergarten sometimes presents a challenge to some children with an autism spectrum disorder. Common concerns can include sensory issues, refusal to follow the teacher’s directions, communication problems with other children, tantrums when the routine is interrupted, limited verbal skills and low attention span. Parents can work with therapists in order to improve areas of concern to help children with autism work on any problem areas.



Inclusion vs Special Education


Most of the time it is difficult for parents of children with autism to decide between inclusions in public or private school or special education programs for kindergarten. The type of education that parents select depends upon the child’s developmental needs and the educational resources available in the areas that family lives.

Experts who support inclusion or educating children with autism alongside normally developed children argue that many children with autism learn well from other children and will improve at a faster rate than in special education settings. Critics of inclusion claim that many teachers in inclusive classrooms are not trained well enough to deal with the special needs of children with autism.

Whether parents choose private, homeschool or public education, the child with autism has a legal right to an individual education program (IEP). When the parents are planning the child’s education, research the local options, consult with autism support groups and seek advice from the child’s therapist and doctor.



Inclusion


Inclusion involves taking into account all children’s social, cultural and linguistic diversity (including learning styles, abilities, disabilities, gender, family circumstances and geographic location) in curriculum decision-making processes. The intent is to ensure that all children’s rights and experiences are recognized and valued and that all children have equitable access to resources and participation and opportunities in order to demonstrate their learning and to value difference.

An inclusive learning environment is one where the early childhood teacher recognizes the strengths, abilities and support needs of all children.

Learning Environments and Opportunities


Learning environments and opportunities is a key focus for best practice kindergarten inclusion. The opportunities, spaces and specific supports that each child with autism spectrum disorder needs can be guided by the information that the teacher gathers from communicating with families.
Families may provide strategies from therapists, such as occupational therapists, speech pathologists or psychologists. Kindergarten can provide opportunities for children with an autism spectrum disorder to practice the skills they are focusing on with their occupational therapist, speech pathologist or psychologist.

The aim is to facilitate a coordinated approach with the family and other professionals supporting the child in order to ensure a consistent approach to education.



  • Visual Supports


An example of specific support that can help children with autism to learn and thrive is visual supports. Many children with autism have difficulties with language and communication and visual supports can be used to promote better understanding and learning opportunities. Visual supports can be helpful for them because they reduce processing time and support children with autism in order to maintain focus.

  • 1. First/ Then Visual Support

First/Then visual support can be used for any activity. It is very easy and basic. It has two steps. This may increase the motivation of the child with autism to complete the non-preferred activity because the child can see that the preferred activity will follow.

  • 2. Task Analysis

Task analysis can be used when a child with autism needs support to follow a series of steps. Each step is numbered in order next to a photo of what to do with the blocks at that step. Although there are four steps in this task analysis the teacher can change the number of steps to suit the child’s needs. The teacher and also families might use this type of visual supports to help a child with autism learn to play with blocks.



  • Quiet Play Areas


Adjustments to the physical environment can make it easier for children with an autism spectrum disorder to play and learn. Opportunities for quiet play and loud play give a structure that may help them to feel secure. Quiet play areas can minimize distractions and they support focus. Providing clearly signed areas means that children with autism can choose to move to the play area that best suits their sensory needs.

Quiet play areas allow space for a child with autism to go to if they are feeling overwhelmed by the noise and activity at kindergarten. This may help to reduce the stress on their senses.

  • Special Interest or Preferred Activity


Some children with autism have a special interest or a preferred activity. For example, some of them have specific interests to play with trains or animals. The teacher may be able to use the child’s special interest or preferred activity in order to involve them in play with other children.

  • Small Group Interactions


Small group interactions provide the opportunity for turn-taking. This is an important play skill. One example is to use placemats at the lunch table. This gives each child with autism a clear visual signal of where to sit at lunchtime. Another example is to provide a mat for the child with autism to sit on in group time. This also gives a clear visual signal of where to sit when it is group time. These may support a child with autism to independently achieve the desired outcome.

On the other hand, large group interactions can be overwhelming for some children with autism. One way to support them in large group interactions is to create structure.



Communication With Families


Communication with families is the second key focus for best practice kindergarten inclusion. Communicating with families of children with autism helps the teacher in order to gather valuable information about their child’s strengths, abilities, interests, and challenges. The information that the teacher gathers supports the planning cycle in tailoring learning environments and opportunities for children with autism. The teacher can also use it to seek advice from, and collaborate with, other professionals.

When making time to communicate with the family of a child with autism, it should be in a respectful way of their time and privacy. Families of children with autism may have extra demands on their time to attend early intervention therapy. It is also good to be flexible with communication. If a face to face meeting is not possible, perhaps the teacher can talk with the child’s family by phone instead. This meeting may be in addition to the meetings that the one with the parents and caregivers of all children at kindergarten.

Things to do with Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder in Kindergarten


Activities for a child with autism in kindergarten can be relevant and enjoyable for the entire class. One of the most important aspects of selecting activities is to consider the child’s interests and strengths. The interests are naturally motivating and strengths offer opportunities for positive experiences. The teacher can consider some activities that may be appropriate for the entire class.



Circle Time


It is an excellent activity that helps children on the autism spectrum to learn through modeling. The activity is ideal because the daily routine contains mini routines which are today’s date/ days of the week/ months of the year, weather, and who is present’ absent by using photos of classmates.

Take Turns


Taking turns is important for social development in kindergarten, and it is also a huge part of the language. Turn-taking can be challenging for many children, but it is often especially hard for those with an autism spectrum disorder. Formalizing the behavior and making it fun can help it become a natural part of the child’s life.

When the child with autism is playing with a toy, the teacher should step in and ask for a turn. He/she shouldn’t wait for the child to say “okay.” Simply take the turn and hand the toy back. When the child learns that the toy will come back, he or she becomes less anxious about giving it up. The teacher can play a simple board game and reward each child for taking a turn. The teacher can bring in a new, very interesting toy, especially one with sounds or lights. Play with it herself for a few minutes, and then offer it to the child, saying “your turn.” Include other children as well, passing the toy around the classroom. If the child is verbal, the teacher should take turns sharing toys or facts during circle time.

Share Experiences


Joint attention or the ability to share an experience with someone else is a common impairment in children with autism spectrum disorder and an essential skill for future success. Fortunately, there are lots of fun ways to work on sharing experiences and attention.



Encourage Imitation


Imitation is a huge part of child development, and it can be very challenging for children with autism. To encourage imitation, there are some fun activities. The teacher can play a game where they randomly pretend to be different animals. Kids must mimic animal behaviors and sounds. The teacher can imitate what the child with autism is doing and continue imitating until the child notices. The teacher can pair children up, and have them pretend to be a mirror for each other. When one child moves, the other must move the same way. The teacher can make a game of having the child imitate her, moving her body in silly ways or making silly noises. For each imitation, she can give a reward.

Matching


It is a visual activity that works with the child’s strengths. The activity appeals to the child’s sense of order and routine and it can be used in order to teach some academic concepts as well. The teacher can begin with simple, identical matches followed by skills that are more complex. For letters, capitals to small; for colors, mixing colors such as blue and yellow match with green; shape, find shapes in objects such as square door; and item to activity, the shoe goes with the foot.

Sorting


It is among the activities for a child with autism in kindergarten that appeals to the child’s need for order. Sorting is a matching skill that requires processing skills that are a little more complex. The child has to scan objects, identify objects and put like items in their respective containers.



Sensory Integration


Sensory difficulties affect the great majority of children with autism. Children may feel that noises, proprioceptive feelings, textures, visual inputs, tastes, and other sensory experiences are too overwhelming, or they may seek out even stronger sensory input. This type of sensory integration dysfunction will change over time, but gently exposing kids to various sensory stimuli during the preschool years can help make this less debilitating.

There are many activities in kindergarten involve sensory processing. Playing outside provides an opportunity for countless sensory experiences such as swinging and climbing. In addition, classroom activities can include the senses as well.

Those classroom activities could be filling a large storage bin with beans and bury small toys inside which allows kids to play in the beans with their hands; spreading shaving cream on a tabletop and let kids smear it around; creating a water table where kids can pour water into different containers; setting up drums so kids can practice banging at different tempos and volume levels; experiment with different foods, involving a variety of tastes and textures; using a spinning chair to twirl kids around; and having a small trampoline for jumping fun.

Some sensory experience can be too much for some kids. If the child seems especially anxious, the teacher shouldn’t force the issue. Often, working with an occupational therapist can help the child with autism overcome these difficulties.



Fine Motor


Fine motor activities can be very challenging for children with an autism spectrum disorder, especially writing. Part of the difficulty is that the brain has to use neurological demanding tasks in a time-critical manner in order to perform simple fine motor activities. There are some tools that can be used in order to develop fine motor which are color/ draw/ write, puzzle, blocks, lacing, buttoning and push-buttons.

Music


It is an excellent activity that automatically gets attention. Music can be used to signal that a transition is about to occur. For example, a “Clean Up” song alerts children that the activity is ending. Instruments are great for building skills such as attention, fine motor listening, and sensory integration.

Play


Activities for children with autism in kindergarten that involve play can help the child to learn how to interact with others. Normally developed children typically play naturally, but children on the autism spectrum often learn how to play, as they would learn how to add. Great play activities include Ring Around the Rosie, Hide and Seek, Hot potato, and Red Light Green Light.

Delayed, unusual, or absent pretend to play skills are especially common in children with an autism spectrum disorder. Working on these skills during playtime can expand a child’s ability to interact with others. Specifically, there are some plays that can be tried. Pretending to be dinosaurs, roaring at each other and looking for food; using a dollhouse and pretend that the dolls are going through their daily routine; using blocks to make buildings, and drive toy cars around the “city” you made; building a train track and create scenarios in which the train must pick up and drop off people and supplies; making an animal hospital for stuffed animals and help fix them up when they get hurt, and using toy food and a play kitchen to cook and serve a meal.

If the teacher can choose a pretend play routine that matches the child’s special interest, it can help to retain his or her attention. The teacher can also reward participation with stickers, candy, small toys, or another little treat.



Things that All Teachers Should Know About Autism in the Kindergarten


  • If you have met one child with an autism spectrum disorder, you have met one child with an autism spectrum disorder. It is important for teachers to remember that all children on the autism spectrum are unique, and what defines one may not define another.
  • Remember that a child shouldn’t be labeled as his place on the spectrum. It is possible for a child with autism to move up the spectrum.
  • Children on the autism spectrum have their own strengths and weaknesses. Teachers should be prepared for a child to struggle with subjects to varying degrees (or not at all).
  • Children on the autism spectrum tend to thrive on repetition and routine. Teachers can help make a student’s educational life as stress-free as possible by understanding the child’s routine and sticking to it as much as possible. Doing so could very well prevent a tantrum, meltdown, and unnecessary stress.
  • Children on the autism spectrum cannot deal with sensory issues like normally developed children because their senses tend to provide them with unreliable information. Before welcoming a child with autism into the kindergarten, teachers should become aware of exactly what sensory issues are, and what kinds of sensory issues they are likely to encounter in the kindergarten.
  • Children on the autism spectrum frequently display behaviors known as stimming. While such stimming behaviors can be distracting to both the teacher and other students, teachers would do well to realize that this type of behavior is not meant to be a distraction. Rather, it is a repetitive pattern that the child finds comforting.


  • Children on the autism spectrum usually have trouble understanding verbal instructions. When giving directions, the teacher should use as few words as possible so that the child with autism has less to process. If it is necessary, the teacher should give directions to the child with autism separately.
  • Teachers may need to come up with multiple ways to give directions. Providing visual aids and/or writing instructions in a few easy-to-follow steps could prove to be very helpful for a child with autism who has trouble processing verbal directions.
  • Children on the autism spectrum have trouble reading social cues, which could cause confusion and awkwardness among the child and their peers. Teachers can help by paying special attention to a social setting, modeling proper behavior to all when necessary.
  • If it is necessary, teachers shouldn’t be afraid to spend time teaching very specific social rules and skills to a student with autism.
  • Teachers should be prepared to be on the receiving end of hurtful words because they sometimes make comments the teacher would consider mean or inappropriate. Instead of taking the comments personally, teachers should find the strength to lead by example with words of praise and positivity.

When a change in routine is planned or likely to take place, the teacher should simply forewarn the student with autism so that she can begin to prepare herself.



  • Perhaps one of the most important things all teachers need to know about autism in the kindergarten is that children on the autism spectrum need more time to process language. If the teacher receives a blank stare after giving verbal directions, he should understand that the child is likely still processing. The teacher can help him out by repeating the directions with the same words. Changing up the words will only require him to begin his process over again.
  • Some children with autism are non-verbal, but that doesn’t mean they have nothing to say. The teacher should expect that the student with autism has just as many ideas and opinions as to any other student, though the teacher may have to encourage the sharing of those ideas a little differently.
  • While the teacher might communicate with other students using sarcasm, idioms, or a raised voice, understand that these types of things do not have the same effect on a child with autism. A child with autism also will not understand if the teacher compares him or her to a sibling or another student, or if you bring up events that are unrelated or old.
  • Children with autism tend to misconstrue negative punishment, but respond much better to positive reinforcement. The teacher should speak with the child’s parents about what methods of punishment and discipline they find most effective.
  • When a child with autism has met the standards set for her, the teacher should allow her the reward of downtime.
  • Students on the autism spectrum usually display special interests. While teachers do not need to cater to these interests at all times, they can be used as a motivational tool for learning. When it is appropriate, teachers may also find it helpful to relate the material being learned about back to the child’s interest.


    • Because of the fact that it takes children on the autism spectrum longer to process things they hear verbally, it is best for them if the teacher speaks literally. The teacher should tell the child exactly what he/she means, without using similes, metaphors, or idioms.
    • It is important to remember that children on the autism spectrum do not meltdown to cause a disturbance. Rather, they meltdown because all of their senses are in turmoil and it is the only thing to do. As a teacher, the best thing to do is to remain a calming and supportive presence.
    • All children, including those on the autism spectrum, benefit from clear choices. The teacher should try not to ask an open-ended question. Clear choices allow for less processing time, fewer arguments, and a greater sense of the classroom as a community.
    • When starting projects, the teacher may find it helpful to show students an example of a finished product. This provides the students with a clear image of what it is they are working towards.
    • Kindergartens tend to be busy with colors and textures. While such decor may appear fun to others, lots of bright colors with no place for the eyes to rest could be hard on the sensory system of a student on the autism spectrum. The teacher should consider toning down the decor to include fewer decorations, less intense colors, and a place where a child can rest his or her eyes. In fact, the teacher will likely find a less stimulating kindergarten to be beneficial for all students.
    • Obtaining a sense of calm through repetition is not reserved for stimming. Rather, teachers can provide a sense of calm for all students by maintaining a routine (for the day, for switching subjects, for getting ready for lunch, etc.) and sticking to it.
    • Teachers can assist by walking through unpacking, transitions, and packing up times until the student has turned these times into routine.
    • Children on the autism spectrum are, first and foremost, children. They are likable, funny, and loving, and will capture your heart. Love your students with autism-like you would any other child in the kindergarten.

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