Parents often hesitate to remove their child from preschool or daycare in order for the child to receive 1:1 ABA. Understandably, parents want their children around typical peers and for them to learn in a natural classroom environment, and sometimes that is appropriate. So why would we recommend for a child to receive 1:1 ABA instead?
Well, there are a few pre-requisite skills that a child needs to be able to learn in a natural environment and to be able to interact with peers. Without those skills, a child can become disruptive or just be left alone in the classroom and not get noticed. Many of the children we see prefer to be alone than to be with others so putting them into a social and play environment may cause them to crawl back into their shell and refuse to interact.
What are the pre-requisite skills that a child should have in order to be ready to learn in a preschool or daycare?
Can a child copy the actions of others? There are so many forms of imitation and it starts with attending to others. In order to imitate someone, the child has to be looking at them. Then, they can copy what the other person is doing. This comes up in being able to copy actions in songs during circle time (think: “The Wheels on the Bus”). It’s also important that they are able to copy actions of others without an instruction to “do this “ or “copy me”. For example, if the child sees all the other kids going to line up at the door, can he copy them and follow along? A big part of toy play is watching what someone else does with the toy and then copying those multiple steps (think: pretend tea party). When my daughter was in preschool, she would come home daily and pretend that she was the teacher and run “circle time” for her toys (think: delayed imitation). Without being able to imitate others, how are they going to learn skills from others?
2. Follows Instructions
Can the child follow 1-step instructions both from teachers and from peers? A child’s day is filled with instructions such as, “Go get your coat”, “Come sit down”, “Get a book” and so many more. Being able to follow these quickly and without negative behaviour is a major pre-requisite to school. If the child is not able to do this, teaching it in a discrete trial setting would be more beneficial.
- First/then contingency
Kids entering preschool need to have an understanding of “first I do (something you ask), then I get (something I want)”. This is a basic contingency that some children need to be trained on. When children are being potty trained, they learn “first I pee in the potty, then I get a sticker”. Later on in preschool, it can look more like “first I need to clean up, then I can have snack”. Without this basic foundation, getting the child to comply with requests at preschool will be very difficult.
- Sit and be on task for short periods of time
Children in pre-school will be expected to sit and be on task for short periods of time. This will (and should) be at an age-appropriate level. Even if it’s for 5 minutes, there will be times when they’ll have to sit for snack, wait in line, or sit at circle time. Without a basic skill of being able to sit, children will struggle.
- Basic play skills, independent play
Depending on the style of the classroom, children might be expected to be able to fill their time with independent leisure play. We’ve seen many kids in a “free play” environment who bounce from one activity to the next, not staying longer than 30 seconds at each one. Each task is incomplete and used non-functionally. Kids in preschool need to be able to choose a toy, engage with it appropriately (even for a few minutes), and then clean up and move to the next activity.
For more information on play skills, click here.
- Allowing other kids/adults in their space
In order to learn from teacher and peers at preschool, the child has to allow those people in his space. If a child turns away when someone approaches him, it is unlikely that he will be able to learn from that person. Being willing to engage with others is a major pre-requisite skill to learning in a peer-based environment. When a child can learn to tolerate parallel play with peers, she becomes more receptive to potentially imitating them and engaging them.
If a child does not have these skills, taking them out of preschool to give them 1:1 ABA is actually teaching them more skills than being in the school. The goal of any ABA program should be to fade ourselves out of it as quickly as possible. We want to use intense 1:1 instruction to teach these pre-requisite skills so that we can put them back into an environment where they have the skills to learn. If a child has these skills, then learning in s small group might be ideal (possibly with an ABA therapist). The goal of early intervention is to close the gap before it gets bigger with age. Although the deficits may not be so noticeable now, we don’t want to wait until they are!