Learning life skills will help a child function more independently at home and school. There are some additional skills that may be referred to as “school readiness skills” that can help a child transition into a classroom more smoothly. One goal of teaching readiness skills is to prepare the child to learn more advanced skills. For example, the child should be able to sit with their hands down and feet on the ground, to look at the instructor and program materials, to follow simple instructions and to imitate simple actions.
When a child is first given demands in a classroom it is common for children to display some inappropriate behaviour. The child may be trying to escape from the demands, especially if they have not had a lot of experience with being given instructions. It is important for the teacher not to reinforce these behaviours by allowing the child to escape. Instead, the teacher should prompt the child to complete the task and provide lots of reinforcement when the child follows the instructions.
A child may also engage in inappropriate behaviour to get access to things they like. Teachers must make sure they do not give the child reinforcers when the child is engaging in inappropriate behaviour. Instead, teachers should spend a lot of time teaching the child to ask for things they want.
Another goal of early readiness programs is to teach the child how to learn. That is the A-B-C sequence of A: hearing an instruction-B: performing the response-C: getting reinforced. To do this, we typically start with easy tasks that the child can do with little to no prompting, and initially providing lots of reinforcement. We also try to use materials that the child is interested in (e.g. match pictures of favourite T.V characters). This helps to reduce problem behaviour and make learning “fun” for the child. Gradually add in more difficult work.
An educational program will likely target skills from a variety of areas including language and communication, play and social, fine and gross motor skills, and academics (e.g. reading, writing, and math). Many children with autism also need to learn what could be called “tolerating skills”. These skills include things such as waiting for toys, activities, attention, etc., tolerating denied requests (hearing the word “no”), sharing reinforcers, turn-taking, transitioning between activities or locations, tolerating loud and/or busy environments, being adaptable to changes in routines, and so on. These kinds of skills should be part of any child’s education program. If you require assistance teaching these skills, don’t hesitate to get support from a behaviour therapist who can help you determine teaching goals and strategies. Teaching these skills early on may prevent some of the challenging behaviours from happening (or escalating to high levels). A child who can maintain appropriate behaviours in these situations will function much more independently in the classroom, resulting in more learning and more meaningful social interactions.