Need for Predictability and Routine:

Another diagnostic feature of autism is the child's strict adherence to routines and the need for sameness in his environment (1). Early childhood programs which are highly structured, consistent and routine, can best meet the child's needs by taking into account this feature of autism. Just as with visual support strategies, programs that are predictable and routine-centered also minimize a child's stress and anxiety by helping him to better understand his environment.


Functional Approach to Challenging Behaviors:

The most effective approach to addressing challenging behaviors in children with autism is proactive. Preventing the development of challenging behaviors can occur by creating appropriate and meaningful learning environments that do not generate the stress, anxiety and frustration typically experienced by children with autism. Due to the characteristics of autism, stress, anxiety and frustration occur in such areas as language comprehension, expressive language, sensory processing, resistance to change, preference for familiar routines and consistency, organization, attending to salient stimuli and distractibility.

The use of the fundamental features in an early childhood program will assist in proactively addressing the occurrence of challenging behaviors. If and when challenging behaviors persist, they should be addressed through a functional assessment of the behavior. Again, the unique features and characteristics associated with autism should be considered in the functional behavioral assessment, to determine how they might be contributing to the presence of the challenging behavior. Specific training on challenging behaviors is covered in the Statewide Autism Training Project, found at the DPI website.


Transition Planning from Early Childhood Program to the Elementary School:

Due to difficulties in making transitions, accepting change and generalizing previously acquired skills, the child with autism may experience significant challenges in transitioning from his early childhood program to a primary elementary program (1). Therefore, several critical components have been identified to assist the child in making this transition successfully.

Visitations to the child's early childhood program by the elementary school staff are also important, so that the early childhood staff can assist in providing direct, individual, child-specific information and training if necessary. In addition, the early childhood staff should visit the elementary school to determine skill areas which may need to be addressed, prior to the child's transition. Early childhood staff can also help assess the physical environment, and determine if there are any adaptations/modifications which which should be considered.

It is also suggested that the entire school professional staff participate in a general inservice or receive information regarding the unique features and characteristics of autism, so that all staff members can more readily understand the child who will be entering their school.



Family Involvement:

Other program features that may greatly contribute to the success of a child's early childhood program, are the following:


Conclusion:

This article has addressed some of the fundamental features to be considered for children with autism. Well-planned and implemented early childhood programs are cost effective, in the long term; children with autism who have benefited from such programs will require less intensive services later on. Most importantly, appropriate autism early childhood programs help children acquire the independent functioning skills that will benefit every aspect of their lives.