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Preschool and Autism: What's the Best Choice?


Updated March 23, 2009

Many families learn about their child's autism when he or she enters preschool. Up until then, their child may have seemed quiet, quirky, or sensitive -- just a little different.

In preschool, though, other issues emerge. The child with autism may have a much tougher time than other kids with new schedules, social engagement, pretend play, and language use. And while parents may have unconsciously adapted to their child's differences, preschool teachers expect that children will adapt to new surroundings.

Then comes "the call."

"I think we need to talk about your child's progress," the preschool director says. Suddenly, the world changes. Preschool administrators may even pressure parents to remove their child from the school immediately, explaining "we don't have the right facilities to help him," or "it's unfair to the other children."

Coping with Preschool: Four Options

Now what? Parents with children on the autism spectrum have four options for preschool-aged care.
  • Many families opt to keep their children with autism at home until it's time for kindergarten. Those families often make use of public and private therapeutic options. This can be a good choice under certain circumstances, though it can be financially and personally overwhelming to some families.
  • Some families with children on the autism spectrum send their children to typical preschools with (or without) one-on-one support. Depending upon the child, the preschool, and the type of 1:1 support available to the family through public or private sources, this can work out very well.
  • Every state in the U.S. requires school districts to provide early intervention programs to preschoolers who have been identified with special needs. Of course, the quality of those programs differ, but they are free and specifically designed for children with special needs. Depending upon the quality of the program, this may be a good choice.
  • In many areas, private preschools are springing up to serve the needs of preschool aged children with autism and other special needs. These schools can be pricey, but they may also offer high quality programs.
Which of these options is right for your family? Sometimes, the answer is obvious: both parents must work, there are no private preschools around, and the local typical preschool won't take your child. Public special needs preschool is the only viable choice. Often, though, the answer isn't nearly as clearcut.

Interested in exploring your options? These articles go into more depth to provide parents with insights and ideas.

  1. About.com
  2. Health
  3. Autism Spectrum Disorders
  4. School and Summer
  5. Preschool and Autism
  6. Preschool and Autism - Preschool and Autism: What's the Best Choice?

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