Supporting Children with Diagnosed or Suspected Autism Spectrum Disorder in Pre-K: Building Social and Emotional Skills

Supporting Children with Diagnosed or Suspected Autism Spectrum Disorder in Pre-K: Building Social and Emotional Skills

Supporting Children with Diagnosed or Suspected Autism Spectrum Disorder in Pre-K: Building Social and Emotional Skills

Here are some ways to support and encourage children with diagnosed or suspected Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) by building Social and Emotional Learning skills (SEL). By incorporating these SEL strategies into the daily routines of all children, Pre-K educators can help all young learners develop essential skills, enjoy positive social interactions, and thrive academically and emotionally. Early recognition and targeted support are vital to helping all children reach their full potential.

Emotion Regulation: Children with diagnosed or suspected ASD might find it hard to understand and express their emotions. Teaching them how to recognize and manage their feelings can be very helpful. You can use:

  • Deep Breathing Exercises: Teach them to take deep breaths when they feel overwhelmed. Use this in times of regulation and dysregulation to see the effects.
  • Mindfulness Techniques: Simple activities like paying attention to their breathing (have them smell something with a strong scent) or focusing on a calming object.
  • Personalized Coping Strategies: Help them create a list of activities that make them feel better, like drawing, listening to music, or cuddling with a favorite stuffy.

Social Skills Development: While some girls with diagnosed or suspected autism might seem socially skilled, they may still struggle with deeper social interactions. Often, societal expectations and gender stereotypes can mask these challenges. Focus on the following with diagnosed or suspected ASD:

  • Active Listening: Teach them to look at the speaker and nod or use simple verbal cues to show they are listening.
  • Perspective-Taking: Use stories or role-playing to help them understand how others might feel in different situations.
  • Interpreting Non-Verbal Cues: Practice recognizing facial expressions and body language through games and activities.

Self-Awareness and Self-Advocacy: Help children with diagnosed or suspected ASD understand their own strengths and challenges, which can empower them to ask for what they need. Encourage:

  • Self-Reflection Activities: Simple discussions about what they like and what they find hard.
  • Goal-Setting: Help them set small, achievable goals and celebrate when they reach them. Create a visual chart and acknowledge when the child works on the goals.

Empathy Building: Understanding the feelings of others can be challenging. Foster empathy by:

  • Storytelling: Read stories that explore different emotions and perspectives.
  • Group Discussions: Talk about how different story characters might feel and why.
  • Group Projects: Encourage cooperative play and group activities to practice working with others.

Executive Functioning Skills: Many children with diagnosed or suspected ASD struggle with organization and task management. Support them with:

  • Visual Schedules: Use picture schedules to help them understand the day’s activities.
  • Task Breakdown: Break tasks into small, manageable steps and use visual aids to guide them.
  • Problem-Solving Practice: Play games that involve solving simple problems to build these skills.

Building Resilience: Children with diagnosed or suspected ASD may face various challenges. Help them build resilience by:

  • Teaching Coping Strategies: Practice techniques like counting to ten or asking for help when they are frustrated.
  • Fostering a Growth Mindset: Encourage them to try new things and emphasize that it’s okay to make mistakes.
  • Celebrating Perseverance: Acknowledge and praise their efforts, even if the outcome isn’t perfect.

Creating Inclusive Environments: Promote an inclusive program/classroom by:

  • Raising Awareness: Educate all children about autism in age-appropriate ways to foster understanding and acceptance.
  • Modeling Acceptance: Show inclusive behavior by treating all children with kindness and respect.
  • Encouraging Peer Support: Encourage friendships and buddy systems to help children with diagnosed or suspected ASD.

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