For many parents, the transition to school from nursery or pre-school for their child can be a stressful, worrying and emotional time, especially for those with a child with special educational needs. The expectations are higher, the days are longer, the teaching style differs, whilst also taking into account a new environment and new people. What is important to many parents is that they prepare their child for the big transition to school, equipping them with the skills needed to transition smoothly, adapt to the environment and people around them, whilst accessing as much as they can in the classroom environment to help them learn, grow and develop.
Many people assume that ABA-based interventions focus solely on modifying undesirable behaviour, replacing it with socially acceptable behaviours, whilst also teaching children with developmental disabilities important ‘learning to learn’ skills. Whilst this is true, ABA-based interventions can also be used to teach important prerequisite school skills, allowing children to become ‘school ready’. When starting school, there are a lot of skills that will allow each child to access the environment and learning around them. Here are some examples:
ABA-based interventions focus on breaking down the above skills into smaller, manageable components, which are taught in a systematic way that each individual child can best access. For example, some children learn better in more of a natural way, whilst others benefit from structured, discrete trial strategies. The way a skill is taught, using the principles of ABA, depends on what skill is being taught. For example, a child may struggle to sit for more than 20 seconds on the carpet, something that children are expected to do when starting school. Using a shaping technique, we would practice slowly shaping the time that the child can sit for, while providing reinforcement contingent on sitting for a particular duration. For example, we may start by reinforcing 30 seconds. When this is consistently observed, we would increase this to a minute and so on until 10 minutes is reached - as opposed to expecting them to sit for more than 10 minutes to start with (teaching them to walk before they can run). Another example may be a child struggling to line up. We would shape up the behaviour by first practicing standing behind one peer, whilst reinforcing appropriate waiting. This would then be followed by three, then fours and so on, until the peer is able to stand in a line of 30 children patiently.
As well as proactively teaching skills before school, ABA strategies can also be implemented to teach ‘school ready skills’ in the classroom environment. Over the years, many ABA therapists have begun to work 1:1 with children with a wide variety of developmental disabilities, as well as typically developing children, to help them access as much as they can in the classroom environment, while also liaising with classroom teachers, speech and language therapists, occupational therapists and other staff members in the school to help each child reach their full potential.
What many people do not realise is that schools are using teaching strategies and reinforcement systems that are based on the principles of ABA every day, such as:
We know that the run-up to starting school can be a stressful time for families. Our therapists have extensive experience of working to prepare children with the skills needed to transition to school, as well as working within schools on a 1:1 basis with children.
This experience tells us that by focusing on some key ‘school ready skills’ using ABA we can make the transition smoother, lessening the worry for parents and carers and making it more likely that your child will enjoy their school experience and gain the most from it.