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, communication, problem behavior reduction, etc.

No matter the age of the learner, 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 within peer groups, and not following these rules leads to struggles/social challenges in the typical school system. We can argue whether or not this Hidden Curriculum should exist, and what's wrong with some of the things it teaches, but that won't make it any less real.

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 about motivation, cooperating with adults, reinforcement, and consequences.

Any ABA program your child is involved in should place an importance on preparing that child for school. Most of the clients I serve 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, heavy demands, a thin schedule of reinforcement, 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, or constant behavioral management or redirection.

 Below are a few examples of skills your child will be expected to demonstrate in order to succeed in school:
  • Staying seated
  • 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 older children/teens who 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. 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 therapy team. Every skill here can be taught/ incorporated into an already existing ABA program. Also, every skill here is imperative to long-term school success. A child who cannot learn within a group will struggle greatly during during Circle Time. A child who cannot share with peers will have difficulty making friends or having a play partner at school.

The purpose of school is learning content or information. That is the reality. Schools and teachers may be ill-equipped to intensively teach those "ready to learn" skills such as compliance, waiting, transitioning on demand, attending skills, social skills, toilet training, etc. Do not let your child be at a disadvantage. Work on these basic school readiness skills now, so that when your child is school age they will have a much easier transition into a classroom.

*Recommend Resource:   Transition to school for children with autism spectrum disorder: A systematic review

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