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  • OOTKS Contributor

School Readiness: One of the Kids

Updated: Jul 3, 2023

As the beginning of August comes, so too does the start of the school year.

The excitement! The anticipation! The perfect clothing and backpack must be found. Our child needs to know the alphabet, and how to count, color, and write their name. And the school supplies! Don’t even get me started on how to shop for deals.

When most people think of “school readiness”, these are the things that pop into their heads first. But what if your child struggles with social interactions and being in proximity to others? What if they lack the flexibility during play time to allow siblings and peers to join? What if emotional regulation, self-management, and adaptive living skills did not come naturally to them as it did their siblings?

Research shows social opportunities are not as reinforcing for individuals with autism as their neurotypical peers. So, of course spinning in circles, lining up items, or playing with sensory toys would seem much more interesting to these children, especially when peers can act unpredictably, causing a sensory overload for our little ones. A therapist’s job is to create social opportunities, pair reinforcement with each interaction, and increase their learner’s motivation to participate. A therapist also highlights the benefits of functional communication skills and coping strategies as tools to make social opportunities more enjoyable. Success is patiently shaped and enthusiastically praised.

Each child is so unique, it is impossible to create a one-size-fits-all blanket to wrap them in and send them off to school with. Here at One of the Kids, we prioritize the learner’s needs when addressing these types of skills and preparing them for the school environment.

The focus is not to teach academics. The focus is to equip each child with the skills necessary to learn within this new environment. Our BKA Director, Danielle Skala, had put it beautifully:

“School is a model for the rest of the community. So, although we say we are preparing them for entering school, what we really mean is we are preparing them to enter the community as a whole: to learn observationally from peers and to access community services, social opportunities, resources, and everything else their general education peers can from the community.”

Board-Certified Behavior Analysts (BCBAs) work hand-in-hand with therapists to create school-ready environments to expose our little ones to these new community settings and routines. We set up classroom schedules, group activities, peer-to-peer interactions, and opportunities to practice age-appropriate adaptive skills (eating, dressing, toileting, etc.).

A typical day at OOTKS, for those preparing to enter school, would include following a classroom schedule. Within this schedule, we have time to play, learn, and eat with our peers. Kids are taught to respond to whole group instructions, discriminate between instructions given to them or given to a peer, as well as share and communicate functionally with peers.

Our ultimate goal is to make ourselves progressively unnecessary as our learner’s skills (and, therefore, independence) increases. The day they graduate from intensive early intervention is one of sadness and overwhelming joy as we know they are ready to begin their next adventure: school.

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