School readiness includes not only early academic skills in reading, writing and mathematics, but also motivation to learn, social and emotional development, language skills, and general knowledge, just to name a few. For children with Autism, because of their unique profiles of abilities and challenges, there are more critical skill sets they need to acquire to get ready to cope school life successfully:
No matter a child is going to a nursery or primary school, the first and foremost criteria is that disruptive behaviors, such as stereotypical behaviors and temper tantrums, should be kept at a minimal level. If a child cannot cope with corrective feedback from teachers, or easily distracted by some decorations in the classroom, the child will have troubles learning effectively. And in a mainstream setting, most teachers are not expected to deal with a student’s problematic behaviors and their disruption to teaching. Aberrant behaviors also cause inevitable stigmatization, creating more challenges in socialization.
Besides regulating and replacing disruptive behaviors, close-to-perfect self-help skills is another critical skill set, as it determines the level of support a child needs in a school and, more importantly, his social appeal to peers. A child must be very fluent in all self-care routines, including changing clothes, eating with different utensils, and using the bathroom in order to be ready for primary school. On top of self-help routines, a child is expected to practice hygiene habits like sneezing or coughing discreetly, wiping nose with tissue efficiently, and keeping themselves clean while eating.
Children with Autism have unique learning styles that are not compatible with the traditional method of teaching, which is time-based, didactical, and not individualized. To minimize the need of assistance in learning, we must make sure that they have the necessary replacement skills and strategies to learn independently in a class. Learning-how-to-learn skills can be sub-categorized into behavioral regulation specific to group and school settings, motivation to learn, sustaining and self-directing attention, problem solving, learning from feedback, reasoning and making inferences.
To reduce the chance of being teased and bullied and to increase the likelihood of developing successful friendships at school, a child should possess social awareness including perspective-taking, understanding social concepts and norms, understanding of his own differences. Advanced social skills like seeking help effectively, being assertive, apologizing, solving social conflicts are crucial for a child to adapt to novel social situations in school.
One may wonder it would take years for a child with ASD to get ready for school. It may be very true as school or mainstream setting is a very complex social environment that does not do much favor to our children. And for many of them, mainstream schools are not necessary the best option as they may face prolonged period of failures both academically and socially. To help a child to get the most of their school-age years, school placements should be carefully chosen according to their abilities, learning styles, and interests.