How to Ensure a Successful First School Year for Your Child with ASD
Enrolling your ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorder) child in kindergarten can be both nerve-racking and exciting for you and your child. Let me walk you through the process for the best outcome.
At what age is school mandatory in Ontario?
Children who will be 4 years old between the first of January and the end of December are eligible to register for kindergarten for the September of that year. Did you know that full-day kindergarten is not mandatory? In Ontario, it is mandatory for children to attend school when they turn six years old and they are eligible for Grade one. Also, you should know that if you choose to enroll your child in the kindergarten program, you have the option to remove him or her for part of the day if that is what works best for them.
What is kindergarten?
Kindergarten is a two-year program, known as Junior kindergarten and Senior kindergarten. It should be designed to create a strong foundation for learning that promotes all areas of a child’s development. It should be an environment that supports learning through relationships, play, exploration and inquiry. Ideally, kindergarten is designed to give your child a strong start in school and in life. But for many children with ASD, it can be a rough start.
What happens during the enrollment process?
The enrollment process starts with registration at your neighbourhood school in February every year. At that time, speak to the principal and let them know that your child has ASD. As part of the process, a meeting with the school team will be arranged and will occur sometime in the Spring.
If your child has autism, he or she will need an Individual Education Plan (IEP). But when they first start school they most likely won't have one because it takes time to develop and implement. There won’t be an IEP to follow, but the school will still be required to meet your child’s educational, safety and emotional needs.
No child with autism is like any other child with autism. That is why you can't assume that the school will know what programs, services and supports your child will need. They won’t, until they have a good understanding of your child. It's the parent's job to make sure that the school understands what the child's needs are. It's the school's job to figure out the most effective way to meet those needs.
You will need to educate the school team about the specifics of your child's autism and his or her personality. So at the meeting, the first step will be to clearly define your child's strengths and needs. This can be done by sharing information about your child's developmental history, health issues, likes, dislikes, sensory issues, food issues, safety issues, social skills, communications skills, inappropriate behaviour, self-help skills, what causes meltdowns, etc. The school will need to know about effective positive reinforcers and motivators and how the student has learned skills at home.
It will also be helpful for the school to know about other service providers who are or have been involved with your child and the type of services that were provided. Share any professional reports and their recommendations for services, supports, and accommodations, with the school.
About home/school communication
Your child will be more successful in learning and generalizing skills if you and the school are consistent by sharing a common focus, approach, and goals. In order to achieve this, daily communication will be necessary. During the meeting, make sure to establish a method of home/school communication. For many students with ASD this is a method of communicating daily activities and behaviour for students who, because of the nature of their disability, cannot do this for themselves. you should think about the format, information to be included and how information from home can also be shared. You will want to know about the activities in which your child participated while at school. You will also want to know about any new skills that were demonstrated, whether or not and how your child played with friends and classmates, songs and stories of the day, new areas of learning, upcoming special events, trips, etc.
What if my child has behaviour issues?
Make sure to receive clarification on how the school will be reporting any significant unwanted behaviours to you. Perhaps this will be a separate document since more details will be required and a subsequent behaviour plan may have to be developed and implemented. At no time should your child with autism spectrum disorder, ever be punished or excluded because of his or her behaviour.
Remember to document everything that was said and shared at the meeting. You can ask for a copy of their notes, but it is important to take your own notes.
Your involvement in your child’s education is required at EVERY stage of his or her time at school, from kindergarten through grade 12 and beyond. It will be important for you to be an effective advocate for your child.
Karen Robinson provides special education advocacy training and consulting services to parents and guardians whose children have autism and other developmental disabilities. She develops her clients into informed, proactive advocates for their children's educational needs. They are empowered by current, customized information that enables them to articulate their children's needs to school staff
and school board administrators in a way that is both assertive and collaborative.
Contact firstname.lastname@example.org for more information about how Karen can help you advocate for an appropriate school placement for your child.
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