Autism is a huge issue that may affect many daycare providers or those that own childcare centers. Dr. Bill Frea, autism expert and creator of the autism program at California State University, Los Angeles, clarifies autism spectrum disorder and describes special services for autistic children. Dr. Frea also provides advice for parents of autistic children who are searching for child care and for daycare providers who care for autistic children.
Own A Daycare: What is autism? How and when is it diagnosed?
Dr. Bill Frea: Autism is a genetic disorder that affects approximately one in every 150 children. It is typically noticed around the child’s second birthday with a confirmed diagnosis before age three. There is no blood, brain or genetic testing for autism. The cause is unknown. The diagnosis is made through clinical observation of behavior, language, and social interaction.
Own A Daycare: Are there special programs/schools for autistic children and if so how are they different from “traditional” programs?
Dr. Bill Frea: Children with autism are best taught in classrooms with typically-developing peers. Most children with autism are successful in regular education classrooms with supports to help them be successful. These supports often include a schedule or other organizational tool to help understand the structure of the day or the sequence of difficult routines, a one-on-one aid to provide additional instruction or behavioral support, and possibly curriculum modifications.
Own A Daycare: Must autistic children go to schools for children with special needs or can they attend a “mainstream” daycare or preschool?
Dr. Bill Frea: Because autism is, at its core, a social disorder it is important that they learn to interact with their peers early. Children with autism should receive intensive early intervention that takes place both in the home and in a classroom with typically developing peers. Without authentic social instruction children are at risk of not developing an understanding of social rules. Opportunities for learning social skills with peers gradually diminish as children get older and schools offer less and less down time. It is only during preschool that children get to spend most of their time exploring or at play.
Own A Daycare: What should parents of autistic children look for in a daycare or preschool?
Dr. Frea: The most important thing to look for in a preschool is a tolerance for differences, and a willingness to have therapists who are trained in structures in the classroom. Often the child is expanding their home program into the preschool, so his or her language, social, and behavioral goals are established and it is critical that instructional opportunities be identified with peers.
Own A Daycare: What tips can you offer preschool teachers and daycare providers who care for autistic children?
Dr. Frea: I recommend that anyone dedicated to teaching children with autism get trained in evidence-based methods. There are well-established teaching procedures, particularly Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) that result in remarkable gains. Once professionals identify opportunities to learn ABA they usually embrace this form of teaching for life. It makes a big difference.
Dr. Frea is an autism expert with a background in special education, clinical psychology, family therapy, and language development. He created the autism program at California State University, Los Angeles, and secured federal funding to grow it into one of the largest university-based training facilities for autism professionals in the United States. He has served on a number of advisory boards, including: the California State Legislative Blue Ribbon Commission on Autism; the Autism Spectrum Disorders Guidelines for Effective Interventions Committee; and the National Standards Project, which evaluates the evidence base for autism treatments. Dr. Frea’s current work with Autism Spectrum Therapies focuses on the development of innovative programs and outcomes research.
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