Your child with Autism or Anxiety is starting prep next year. They have been doing well at their school transition sessions, but you can’t help but be a bit worried still about how they will go next year. It is such a big change from kindergarten.

Kinder is a smaller, safer environment. The program is more play based and the children have more choice and control about the activities they engage in and those they don’t. The playground is smaller and the number of kids within it is consistent.  The children are not pushed to do anything they don’t want to.

School is physically a much bigger space. Some schools have gates or fences that the children can get out of at times. There will be more children in the playground than at kinder. Even if there is a designated prep play area, there will most likely be at least two prep classes of children using this playground at the same time.  There will be children there that do not know your child, or understand how he/she responds or behaves at times. There will be children there that your child does not know….that can be unpredictable.

The classroom is more structured and there will be times when the children are expected to complete tasks in a certain way.  If your child doesn’t participate, they may be labelled as “naughty or difficult”. The toilets are usually located away from the classroom; children have to ask if they can go to the toilet at school. At kinder they can just go when they need to and it’s part of the kinder room.

At kinder the teachers are the same most of the year. At school your child will go to specialist classes with other teachers they don’t know and that don’t know them.  Classes also often work in groups based on abilities, so your child may be in a group that works with a teacher other than their class one at times. In the playground there will be unfamiliar teachers doing playground duty at times. Will your child know to approach them and feel comfortable to do that if they need help?

Are you confident that your child will cope with all of these changes smoothly?

We have been running our “Give your child a head start to school” programs to help make the transition as smooth as possible.  Here are 6 great reasons our programs have been so popular and successful for supporting children with Autism and Anxiety to make the change to Prep more confidently:

  1. We understand the needs of children with Autism and Anxiety when starting Prep

Our groups started in response to families highlighting to us what was difficult for their children with Autism and Anxiety when they started Prep. We listened very carefully to their stories from their perspectives so we deeply understand what things are the most difficult for these kids to cope with.  A lot of school readiness/transition groups focus just on helping kids with their language and fine motor skills. These groups are beneficial if started a term or two before children start school to give them a skill boost.

BUT….our families kept telling us that the thing they found hardest was dealing with the differences between the kinder and school environment and the social expectations.  We continue to survey our families that attend our programs to keep updating what it is we need our kids to be better prepared for.

We have also spent time with Prep teachers and obtained valuable feedback from them on the little things that have caused problems for the ASD/Anxious kids they have had over the years.  Things we wouldn’t have thought of at first have been brought to our attention. For example, how different classrooms share resources such as textas, etc. Many parents are zealous about labelling their child’s things when they start school but if some of the resources such as textas, scissors, etc are going to be shared on tables this can cause an issue if your child thinks the one labelled with their name is for them only.

This research we do with parents and teachers means our group is laser targeted on the issues that really matter for our ASD/anxious kids.

  1. Timing of our programs

The school transition sessions run by primary schools today are much improved on the transition programs of yesteryear.  I remember being dropped off on the first day of school with twenty or so other kids and not having visited it before. I remember feeling alone and frightened as mum left, tears in her eyes too.

Schools have learnt a lot and now do a lot more to prepare all children for the big jump up from kinder to Prep.  Many of the kids we see with ASD /Anxiety benefit from this extra preparation and seem to do well at their transition sessions.  However the biggest issue is that these sessions are at the end of the year and then there is that 5-6 week summer holiday break.

We know that our kids with ASD/Anxiety need more recent preparation and practice before they start school and we have always run our groups in the week before school starts. This provides a boost just before the school term actually starts to re-introduce the idea of school, the uniform, the bag and lunchboxes and what the expectations of school will be like.

  1. We are clear about who our group is tailored to help and who it is not.

Our groups are NOT trying to help prepare every child for school. We know what we do best and we have worked hard to tailor this group for children who;

  • May have difficulties separating from parents when starting school
  • Have difficulty coping with changes and benefit from extra practice and preparation
  • Need extra support understanding the demands of the more structured school setting
  • May have sensory processing difficulties that can impact on how they will manage a school environment (e.g. difficulty focussing attention, sitting still, coping with noise, etc)
  • Need help with the social expectations at school such as finding the right people to play with at recess/lunch, knowing who and how to ask for help, knowing how to recognise if they are being bullied, understanding how their behaviours impact others
  • Can be resistant to doing things when asked and tends to like to do things on their terms only
  • Find writing, drawing, cutting tasks difficult and avoids doing them
  • Need help to be independent with managing their belongings as they often lose things

4. The structure of our program is unique

Our program is designed to be a safe space to practice all the stuff that is going to be challenging.  We have a small staff to child ratio so we can provide detailed attention to work out what your child needs.  There will be two qualified Occupational Therapists running each group and there is often also an additional OT student assisting.  The maximum number of children in the group is 6.  This way we can closely observe your child and try out individual strategies for each child within the group program.

Other ways in which the structure is unique is that we run the group on 4 consecutive days so the children begin to get used to the idea of having to attend school daily.  There is also a “built in” recess time within the program where the children are left to play so the OTs can see what the children do during the unstructured play time that they will experience at school.

  1. Comprehensive transition report provided for you and your child’s teacher

It’s no good your child attending this amazing program if we don’t pass on detailed information directly to your child’s teacher!!  Our comprehensive reports let your child’s teacher know what your child found difficult, what they did well with and most importantly what strategies were trialled successfully with your child that can be incorporated into the classroom or playground for them.

  1. 10 years of experience running these groups

Yep, 10 years! Sprout has been running these groups consistently for 10 years. We started with one group and for the last couple of years we have had to run 2 groups at a time to accommodate for the growing need.  We must be doing something right!!

If you want the peace of mind of giving your child with Autism or Anxiety the best preparation possible to starting Prep,  contact us on sprout@sprouttherapyservices.com.au or on 03 5975 9197.

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