Autism for kindergarten personnel

Pedagogy is about love, not learning

There is no magic pill to cure autism, the causes of which are still unknown. Everything that science has at its disposal comes down to psychological therapy and the formation of self-service skills and behavior rules in society. The key role in this process is played by the kindergarten.

Some people believe that a child with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) needs to be in a neurotype group: the environment helps an autistic child to learn to interact with peers and compensate for his behavioral problems. This is impossible at home. Is it true?

Teacher to know: autism symptoms

There are no identical autistic kids even of the same age, but some features are common to every child with ASD:

  • minimum of social interaction;
  • communication skills disorder;
  • behavioral stereotypes and narrow personal interests.

The minimum of social interaction is manifested in the inability to see and feel another person’s emotions and to express their own. A child with ASD often does not understand jokes, so either does not respond to humor or laughs in the wrong way. It is difficult to imagine abstract concepts for some preschoolers with ASD.

Communication skills disorder is manifested in the difficulties of speech reproduction.  Children with ASD do not speak well, their words are not clear, and their vocabulary is minimal: “yes”, “no”, “sleep”, “sit”, etc., for example. If a child speaks with sentences, they are meaningless and similar to an incoherent set of words.

Behavioral stereotypes and narrowness of personal interests look like:

  • repetition of the same action: aimless leg, arm, head movements, or some rule observance;
  • fixation of attention on one object: the child watches only one cartoon, and nothing else.

Inclusion in kindergarten

The creation of an inclusive group in preschools is based on the principles of an integrated approach and a special space according to the Procedure for Completing Inclusive Groups in Pre-schools.

The integrated approach consists of several specialists – defectologists, psychologists, speech therapists, etc. – working together with a specific child. Practice shows that working only with a psychologist or speech therapist does not give sustainable results. Besides, an integrated approach will help track the dynamics, clarify the diagnosis over time, and adjust training.

Tasks of the teacher:

  1. To create emotional comfort in the group. For this purpose, it is important to receive theoretical knowledge about autism, attend training, and learn working with such children from colleagues. A child with ASD behaves inadequately not because of bad parenting or indifference, but because he is simply different. The teacher also needs to consult with a psychologist, because it is not easy to cope with ordinary children, not to mention ‘special’ children.
  2. To follow the principle of equality. The teacher will have to take on the role of a tolerance advocate, without focusing on the other children’s attention on the features of a child with ASD. At the same time, it is important to create conditions for the autistic child’s comfort: for example, a place for the rest if needed. This will help develop cooperation between children, mutual understanding and help, and instill behavior rules in a child with ASD. For this purpose, special techniques were invented. For example, TEACCH-program for therapy children with similar communication disorders. Behavioral ABA and emotional-level approaches have also proved to be good. The choice depends on the current state of a particular child and is selected individually. This allows the autistic child to be socialized and harmless by adapting the environment to his needs.
  3. Alliance with parents. ‘Friendship’ with the family will allow the teacher to understand the child with ASD better, learn about the features, preferences, and interests, limitations, and take into account accompanying diseases. Children with ASD often suffer from gastrointestinal disorders, allergic reactions, hyperactivity, low muscle tone, etc. An attentive teacher will see it and recommend parents to consult a doctor or a rehabilitation therapist, for example, who is not in kindergarten. And parents will learn more about their child’s inclinations, potential opportunities, successes, and failures, and receive recommendations about what to work on at home. The cooperation between kindergarten teachers and parents will speed up the child’s adaptation, as much as possible to compensate for autism and disorder signs.

Special aria

According to the legislation, inclusion is mandatory in Ukraine, so rules and regulations for the arrangement of the premises have been developed:

  • availability of ramps so that every child, regardless of their health condition, enters the kindergarten;
  • the presence of natural light;
  • observance of temperature and humidity standards in the preschool;
  • high-quality furniture and compliance with the location norms, suitable equipment;
  • availability of educational and methodological materials and necessary equipment;
  • Setting up a sensory room for therapy and educational classes.

For children with ASD successfully development at a preschool, psychological and pedagogical preparedness is necessary. According to the director of the ‘Child with a future’ kindergarten for children with developmental disorders, Natalia Struchek work in a therapy pre-school institution is specific:

“The therapy is carried out by teachers with special education – defectologists, speech therapists, psychologists. I believe that even in the training period it is necessary to attend narrow conferences, seminars, lectures to choose the direction and learn techniques. I have never met a speech therapist who could work with all nosologies at the same time – there are specifics everywhere.

For teachers who are just getting started, I recommend starting a practice with neurotypical children. This is an outlet that helps not burn out and to distinguish the norm from the non-norm. It also teaches ‘tricks’ that are adapted and applied in therapy work.

And this is a continuous improvisation, mobility, and flexibility. Why is it difficult for children with ASD to adapt to ordinary kindergartens and schools immediately? Such a program is more difficult for them,  it is necessary to attract attention all the time, to teach what they have repeatedly passed. Besides, there is no common approach for all children with ASD: each therapist must know different methods and apply them individually. The cards will suit someone, but you will not even show them to another child.”

You can learn about the types of therapy work and get professional tools here.

The main problem of inclusion in Ukraine

It is problematic for ‘special’ children to attend an ordinary kindergarten in Ukraine.

On the one hand, this is due to a lack of knowledge of the approaches and methods of working with autistic children. Parents are sometimes denied admission to kindergarten or create unbearable conditions, and the family decides to take the child out. There are frequent examples of this with atypical autism when the disorder does not manifest itself immediately. On the other hand, not all children with the disorder are prepared to be in a neurotypical environment. Natalia Struchek adheres to this opinion:

“I do not agree that all children with ASD should be placed to neurotypical kindergartens and schools: there are children who do not immediately ‘pul’ the general program, and, on the contrary, highly functional autistic children, who adapt well.

The way to inclusion is very important and necessary, so the main parents’ and teachers’ task is to prepare a child with ASD for school, to adapt to a neurotypical environment.”

Socialization and therapy often fall on the parents’ shoulders who have to look for alternatives – private and specialized kindergartens, schools for autistic children, therapy groups, etc. in Ukraine.

But to solve the problem of autistic children’s inclusion, the symptoms of which are alarming for teachers and parents of neurotype children, it is necessary to continue the state strategy on inclusion. The teachers must learn to work with children with ASD so that the educational needs of each child are taken into account.