If you have a child on the spectrum and they’re doing well in a special education program, that’s always a good thing. However, it may leave you with a difficult decision of whether or not to mainstream your child. Mainstreaming a child with Autism can be a thrilling option since it is less stigmatizing and opens up more opportunities in life. They might also be asking for it, and showing a greater willingness to be included as part of the group, and keeping them isolated could eventually cause the child to regress. However, rushing the process could have some disastrous effects and slow down their development. Here are 5 essential mainstreaming tips for parenting a child with autism.
Don’t Choose Mainstreaming a Child with Autism Too Soon
Mainstreaming is a major change for any child. Moreover, it is important that you take your time. Don’t make that change until your child is ready. Take the child’s emotional, behavioral and social skills into account, not just their academics.
You can take steps to improve their social skills using tools such as social stories for kids. Social stories for autism are narratives that help children understand social norms and demonstrate how to communicate. They provide clear examples of common situations like greeting teachers, handling disagreements, and engaging in other social niceties. Autism social stories explain what others are thinking and feeling, providing insight for autistic children who otherwise struggle to understand others.
Autism Parenting Magazine is a great resource for parents with autism and for free social stories your child will be able to use to improve their social development. They also have tools like cartoon strips for children to help explain how they feel and what they’re thinking.
Try to work with the teachers, too, to help children socialize. Start in small groups in a safe setting,collaborate with other parents,answer their questions about your child to alleviate concern, and consider bringing your child along. Reach out to other parents in advance, so they can work with you should problems arise.
Limit Sensory Stimulation
Children with autism are very sensitive to sensory stimulation. Brightly colored displays, open windows, and loud noises are common distractions or even sources of overload.
Unfortunately, other children often fall into this category. Teachers can’t make hyperactive children in the room calm down, but they can provide your child a safe place to retreat if overwhelmed. Let your child visit the classroom to get familiar with it before they meet the other children.
Set Strict Boundaries at the Very Start
Children with autism do better when they have a predictable schedule and clear boundaries. A school schedule is not good enough. Autistic children need consistent rules in the classroom and a regular routine. Outline the schedule for the day so that they know what is going on. However, you shouldn’t expect the teacher to rearrange the class for the sake of your child.
Ensure that the teachers provide clear, concise instructions the child understands. Writing the instructions down allows a child who struggles to remember what to do. Teachers need to understand that autistic children have difficulty in recognizing social cues, so they should tell the autistic child when it is their turn to do something.
Discuss Learning Styles
Autistic children are typically visual and hands-on learners. Ask the teacher to focus on pictures and objects the child is fixated on in lessons. This can help draw the child into the group exercises and class discussions. Your child might need a comprehensive neuropsychological assessment to determine their cognitive and academic strengths so that your teacher knows what help they need help with and what they can do on their own.
Consider the Academic Support Required
Some grades come with extra academic demands. For example, third grade is the year students go from learning to read to reading to learn. If your child is struggling to read, they will either need additional academic support to keep up, or another year of intensive reading education to be able to transition next year. Sometimes this makes schools with programs for autistic students a better choice than the school in your neighborhood.
The first year of middle school comes with greater social challenges. There is less oversight, higher expectations, and greater need for organization on the part of the student. It might be wise to wait until the end of middle school, after you’ve spent several years working on these skills, before mainstreaming your child.
You could also arrange extra support to help your child make the transition. This should be done along with the creation of an Individualized Education Program. Don’t forget to have the IEP updated as your child progresses.
Mainstreaming is challenging for children with autism and ASD. However, there are steps you can take to make the process go as smoothly as possible.