School Readiness- Is Your Child Ready for School?

ABA Therapy is intended to teach or manage a wide range of skills and/or behaviors including self help skills, motor skills, play skills, problem behavior reduction, etc.

No matter the age of the child, ABA can also prepare children for the classroom environment. When discussing education or the school system, there is a concept called Hidden Curriculum  which refers to an implicit type of instruction that covers "hidden" rules or codes children are expected to know. Examples of hidden curriculum include gender bias, competition, obedience, and the importance of popularity. These examples may not be explicitly taught alongside math and grammar, but they are implicitly taught to children in the school system. Following these unwritten rules is definitely reinforced in the school system, and not following these rules leads to struggles. 

For both explicit and hidden curriculum, kids on the spectrum tend to be at a disadvantage when navigating through the school system. Parents often think of school readiness as things like being able to transition successfully, being toilet trained, knowing the alphabet, being able to count, etc. I encourage you to think wider in terms of your child's school readiness. Any ABA program your child is involved in -just like the school system- has explicit curriculum and hidden curriculum. Beyond the programs your child is working on with the ABA therapist, just by receiving therapy the child is learning certain things. For example: When the therapist shows up at the house it is time to work. If the child just woke up, is hungry, isnt feeling well, is in the middle of a tantrum, or having any other type of issue they still have a session to go through. Over time, this teaches the child (implicitly) that no matter how they are feeling when its time to work, its time to work. 

Any ABA program your child is involved in should place an importance on preparing that child for school. I would estimate 70% of my clients are school age. So as a result, I am always thinking about school readiness. It is wonderful if a child is doing well inside the home working with a therapist 1:1. But ultimately the goal is for that child to do well in a classroom:  in a group setting with noise, distraction, and minimal breaks. As ABA professionals if we do not make a conscious effort to work towards school readiness with our clients then we are doing them a disservice.

Just because your child is very young, does not mean you don't need to be thinking about school readiness. Its always better to start planning for these issues in advance. Whether your child is in public school, private school, or even home-schooled, this is still a topic you want to be thinking about and planning for. 

Children entering the school system, even preschool programs, are expected to have a basic skill set. I interact with, train, and observe teachers all the time and I can tell you honestly: Teachers expect to walk into their classrooms and just teach. Teachers do not expect that classroom instruction will include individualized/ specialized attention to help a child acquire basic skills.  Below are a few examples of skills your child will be expected to demonstrate in order to succeed in school:
  • Staying seated
  • Eye contact
  • Attending to the teacher
  • Tuning out irrelevant stimuli
  • Social skills, peer interaction skills, "Plays nicely with others"
  • Self help skills (to include feeding, grooming, and toileting skills)
  • Learning within a group
This is a very basic list of the type of fundamental skills teachers expect children to have before they enter the classroom.  I know children who are 6, 9, or even 11, and do not have some of the skills on this list. They cannot stay seated in a chair, without someone reminding them to stay in that chair. They do not play nicely with others, unless prompted to do so with a M&M or a Skittle. They do not have the ability to go to the bathroom by themselves, and the therapist must go to the bathroom with them. They do not know how to attend to the teacher and tune out the noise of the air conditioner, aromas coming from the cafeteria, or the loose thread on their shirt.
Does your child possess this basic skill set? If not, share this information with your team of ABA therapists. Every skill here can be taught, and incorporated into an already existing ABA program. Also, every skill here is imperative to school success. A child who cannot learn within a group will be a nuisance to the teacher during Circle Time. A child who cannot share with peers wont have friends at school. A child who cannot make and sustain  eye contact (so often we forget to teach these kiddos not just to make eye contact, but to hold it) will be labeled as "inattentive" and "doesn't listen" by the teacher.

The purpose of school is learning subjects. That is the reality. Schools and teachers may be ill-equipped to intensively teach attending skills, social skills, toilet training, etc. Do not let your child be at a disadvantage. Work on these basic school readiness skills at home, so that when your child is school age they will have a much easier transition into the classroom.

*Recommend Resource: Is Your Child Ready For School?

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