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Transitioning into Kindergarten for Students with Autism: A Guide for Preschool Teachers

written by: Cheryl Gabbert • edited by: goldwriter • updated: 7/12/2012

As a preschool special needs teacher, how do you ensure that a preschooler with autism is ready to transition into kindergarten? How much time should the student spend in the regular classroom, and how much time in the special education classroom setting?

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    Best Placement of Students with Autism

    Since there are no two kids who are exactly alike, it makes sense to start out by saying that there is no single solution to the question of best placement for kids with autism spectrum disorders. Children with autism have different strengths and weaknesses that must be factored into the decision of best placement when considering a special education transition into kindergarten. When transition time comes, teachers as well as parents must work together to communicate what each believes to be the best option. Sometimes parents want either full inclusion for their children or an all day special education autism classroom, but these are the extremes at both ends of the placement spectrum. A big part of educating autistic children is transitioning them smoothly to the next educational setting. This is something that must be given a lot of consideration by the entire IEP team.

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    Some Questions To Ask

    What kind of kindergarten classroom is available? Will the child be entering a small class size kindergarten setting, or will the class be full? How well equipped is the regular education kindergarten teacher for meeting the autistic child's needs? Sometimes just looking at the kindergarten class itself adds insight into the decision-making process.

    How verbal is the child? The more verbal the child, the easier it may be for him to function in a kindergarten classroom alongside other children. Children with Asperger's may fall into this category, only needing support personnel who can consult with the regular education teacher, providing ongoing support as needed. Children who are nonverbal may not be as good of a candidate for spending a large portion of their day in kindergarten.

    How does the child handle large group settings? What about noise and stimulation? Kids with a lot of sensory issues may find a large group kindergarten setting to be uncomfortable and distracting, or downright overwhelming. Students who are extremely sensitive will most likely benefit from a small, quiet group setting.

    Teachers can gauge how well a child would do in a kindergarten setting by looking at how well they do in the group preschool setting with other children. If the child has adapted well to the classroom environment of preschool, there is a higher probability that the child will be successful in kindergarten.

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    How Much Support?

    When considering a child's transition into kindergarten, you must also determine the amount of needed support the child will require. Will an assistant be needed for the child in order to assist the child during the day? If an assistant is utilized, the child may be able to handle longer amounts of time in the regular education setting. If no assistant will be appointed to the child, less time in the regular education class may be the necessity. Unfortunately the hiring of extra personnel is in the hands of the special education department, and out of the control of teachers, so determining placement will sometimes depend, at least in part, on decisions made by administrators as much or more than those educating autistic children.

    Many children divide their day between kindergarten and special needs classes, and this can be a good placement for many children. The amount of time as well as the placement will be determined by the IEP team during the transition meeting. At this time, everyone can ask the appropriate questions, and determine the best place for the child. Sometimes the best thing to do is to actually make a decision, see how it works out during the first month or two of school, and then meet again to change the placement if it appears to be needed. No matter how challenging, if everyone involved keeps the child's best interest at heart, the best placement can be determined.