In this day in age, some circles definitely ‘push’ for early identification of children who are on the spectrum. This is warranted, because research does in fact demonstrate that early intervention equals higher levels of success for children as they grow and evolve in the world.
However, after early identification, the reality is that supports can be difficult to find, inconsistent, and watered-down so to speak due to a lack of knowledge and education about children with ASD.
There seems to be some common myths surrounding children who are identified early, especially those diagnosed with high-functioning levels of Autism. For educators who are unfamiliar with ASD and its signs and symptoms, it is easy to confuse them with common traits in young children who basically have neurotypical functioning. These include, but not limited to
- Emotional maturity (very common for many children when it comes to early identification)
- cognitive readiness to learn academic tasks
- Developmental readiness
- Emotional Readiness
With this in mind, we need to distinguish the differences between students who are experiencing any range of cognitive, developmental, and emotional readiness for new tasks. It is quite common for all professionals who work with children to minimize the effects of of ASD at times, and normalize the symptoms in comparison with other children who are experiencing other forms of cognitive, developmental, and emotional readiness issues. But what we need is real programming, knowledge, and education about ASD for all of our support systems for children with ASD, including our school system. The following are suggestions are what everyone who works with children should know about ASD:
- ABA/IBI Programming! This should be an early intervention strategy that is implemented within every facility that works directly with children. Research backs ABA/IBI interventions, and therefore they should be implemented, or at least available, in our schools for all children identified on the spectrum
- Explicit Instruction Strategies! Rather than merely implementing sensory breaks and exercises prescribed by an OT, explicit instruction needs to be implemented, and is beneficial for many types of learners.
- Visual Schedules! There is a science behind the use of visual schedules, and explicit training is warranted for all of our early childhood workers and educators. It involves much planning and preparation on behalf of the the teacher and special education team. This should not be overlooked or minimized.
- Social Skills classes and Peer Play Groups! Social skills are a cornerstone area of need for individuals on the Spectrum. Research shows that many individuals with autism have difficulty holding down jobs, and making transitions within the school system, and from home to school. Those are just a ‘small’ part of the picture as to why specific classes and skills groupings are important for students on the Autism Spectrum.
- Hands-on Learning! Minimize the abstract, and strive to make learning concrete.
- Mandatory ASD training for ALL Workers and Educators of children! With some statistics showing that 1 out of every 65 students on the spectrum, and research showing that early intervention is of tantamount importance, there is no reason that early identified students on the spectrum should be in classrooms where educators are not trained or knowledgeable about ASD.
- Strategies to help students understand emotions! This includes, and certainly not limited to using 3-point, and 5-point scales etc.,
- Social Stories! This should be something readily available to help students on the spectrum navigate transitions and social situations.
- 1:1 Support! There are times and places when students on the autism spectrum need to learn one on one, even if they are high-functioning or gifted. There should be programming provisions for this.
- Strategies actually help ALL students! The wonderful thing is, that implementing any of the above strategies globally in a classroom will be beneficial for all students!
Because we are still in the relatively early stages of implementing appropriate strategies to support young children with ASD, many educators and childhood workers have yet to receive the training, knowledge, or expertise to support students on the spectrum. If training has been undertaken, then we should not be waiting for opportunities to put the training to practice, the practice should be happening already with anyone working with our children and students, regardless of early identification.
Let’s start creating a balance of the ‘push’ and ‘pull’ between the organizations and individuals who want to promote early-identification of ASD, and the organizations and individuals who inadvertently minimize ASD, and don’t understand yet that our children with Autism need specialized supports and programming.
© Deborah McCallum and Big Ideas in Education, 2012. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Deborah McCallum and Big Ideas in Education with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.