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Autism and New Classroom
Q: I have a four-year-old autistic daughter. I am concerned about her going from a half-day, 10 student class this year to a full day, 24 student classroom next school year. She is so shy and quiet. Any suggestions?
Moving from a half-day pre-school class with 9 other children to a regular, full-day classroom of 23 other children would be a big step for any child. For a child with autism who is shy and quiet (not all children with autism are quiet; many are described as shy), this upcoming transition is a reason to be concerned.
First, are you certain that your child has been diagnosed correctly and is receiving the specialized intervention she is likely to need? An accurate diagnosis of autism can be difficult; it requires an experienced professional team. There are four times as many boys with autism than girls and autism can be mild or severe.
Contact other parents in your area who have children with autism. Find out about their experiences with transition. I am certain that your caution about the transition to a regular classroom is in your daughter's best interest.
Assuming your daughter does have autism, it is not too early to begin asking her teachers about the kinds of special assistance that will be available to your daughter as she tries to make this major transition. You also need to ask whether she is likely to be ready to do so. Even though I do not know your daughter at all, I am very concerned about whether a regular class will be appropriate unless considerable special resources are available. Whatever classroom your daughter is in, you want to be sure that an individualized educational plan has been developed to meet her unique needs. Under current Federal legislation, Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), she is entitled to a thorough assessment to develop an individual educational plan.
I hope your daughter is now in a pre-school program that has been designed to meet her special needs. If she is not, please do not wait to initiate changes. In fact, it may be appropriate to advocate for an extended school year (year-round) program for your daughter.
Stanley D. Klein, Ph.D.
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Stanley D. Klein, Ph.D., is the former Editor in Chief of Exceptional Parent magazine. A clinical psychologist and editor, Klein cofounded the magazine in 1971. Klein serves as a Research Associate in Medicine (Pediatrics) at Children's Hospital (Boston), where he teaches health care professionals about working with the parents of children with disabilities, with particular focus on the challenge of delivering difficult diagnostic news.