Autism, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, affects roughly one out of every 88 children. While there isn't a "treatment," the CDC notes that when it comes to autism spectrum disorder, early intervention is key in helping affected children reach their utmost potential. Preschools geared toward autistic children can provide an early intervention experience to help your child gain new abilities, grow socially and develop coping skills to use in kindergarten and beyond.
Value and Benefits
If you are wondering if preschool is really necessary or even appropriate for your autistic child, check out the benefits before dismissing this type of early learning experience. While your child may not be a candidate for a traditional preschool setting, depending on where he falls on the spectrum, he may benefit from a specialized early education setting. According to the ASDs organization Autism Speaks, there are programs that offer preschoolers a structured therapeutic curriculum, and participants show increased learning, improved social skills and better use of communication.
One of the main differences between your average local church day care and a specialized preschool will be its teachers. While both will likely have training in early childhood education, a specialized preschool will feature teachers who have specific experience and an educational background that focuses on helping young children with ASD. According to the experts at Autism Speaks, a specialized therapeutic program should feature either teachers with training in ASD, therapists or paraprofessionals -- working under the watchful eye of a trained teacher -- who have experience working with autistic children. Before choosing a preschool program for your autistic child, check the staff's credentials. If the teacher doesn't have a degree or doesn't have specialized training working specifically with autistic kids, consider another option.
Finding a Preschool
Thumbing through the phone book or doing a quick Internet search for day care providers isn't likely to find you a quality preschool for your autistic child. Due to the specialized nature of a preschool for autistic children, finding a quality center is key. If you aren't sure where to start, ask your child's pediatrician for a referral or ideas. Another option is to ask another medical or developmental professional who already works with your child. For example, if your 2-year-old already receives some early intervention services such as speech therapy, ask her therapist for a recommendation. Additionally, talking to other parents of autistic children in your community -- at a discussion or support group -- can give you ideas of what to look for and quality programs that are nearby.
What makes a preschool for autistic children special or different from a traditional program? The key differences lie in the early intervention services and treatments that your child will receive. According to the CDC, the most common treatments that early intervention specialists focus on include applied behavior analysis (ABA); developmental, individual differences, relationship-based approach (DIR); and sensory integration therapy. ABA uses positive reinforcement to encourage appropriate behavior and allows the professional to measure and track the child's progress and subliminally discourage negative behavior. DIR and sensory integration therapy both use a relational approach through the teacher and objects to help the child cope with sights, smells and sounds. A preschool for autistic children may also include speech and occupational therapy services.