5 Skills Your Child Needs Before Transitioning to School


School transitions…for some parents and guardians, those two words can bring an endless amount of emotions. School is a big adjustment for everyone involved, especially for children with autism. 

When transitioning from ABA to school, we are used to completing discrete training trials where children with autism know what to expect and how to respond. However, in a social context such as school, children with autism have to conform to the social context within seconds in order to respond appropriately to the situation.

We tend to think about the overt social behaviors that are displayed at school that our children need to follow, and don’t always focus on the covert social behaviors that our children with autism need to have. Our kiddos on the spectrum tend to miss those covert social cues, such as turning their heads from left to right in order to look at the children around them to see what they should be doing. Without the constant presence of someone guiding them, they will likely fall behind and will not follow those routines.

Preparing your child for school may seem like an intimidating task, but here are some questions to answer, as well as prerequisite skills your child should have, before thinking about a school transition.

Hidden Communication: Is your child able to scan a room to observe his or her peers and then modify their behavior based on what their peers are doing? Can your child track stimuli that is moving around a room without needing prompting from an adult?

Attending to Material: Can your child attend to material being presented for an extended period of time? Especially think about classroom lessons that are not as attention grabbing or interesting to your child. Can your child work independently in a group or one-on-one for up to 15 minutes on a single worksheet or app on their iPad?

Social/Group Behavior: Can your child take turns? Can your child learn in a group of three or more peers? Can your child follow common classroom routines/rules, such as raising his/her hand without talking out, listening to teacher instructions, waiting until he/she is called on without shouting out their answer, etc.? Can your child learn from and/or take instruction from more than one teacher? Can your child sit in a group with a ratio of 1:4? Can your child give and follow directions given to them by a peer?

Following Directions: Can your child follow directions with a minimum of three steps of instructions? More times than not, teachers will give directions at the beginning of a lesson or activity. Can your child recall information and directions that have been presented on a time delay?

Tolerating: Can your child tolerate changes to his/her schedule without notice? School schedules are often changing, sometimes without advanced notice. For children with autism, especially if they are used to following planned-out schedules, this can often be a struggle, as well as an antecedent for problem behavior.

These are just a few questions or skills that your child will potentially need before a transition into school would be recommended. School opens up a whole new world for your child, and providing your child with opportunities to intensively practice these skills will have these new worlds welcoming them with open arms.

Rachel Sackett, B.S., BCaBA
Group Training Coordinator, Indianapolis North