As a new school year begins, some parents may realize their child isn’t ready for a traditional education. Nicole Ercan, Clinical Director of Apara Autism of San Antonio, and Matthew Lugo, Registered Behavior Technician, discuss how the center benefits children with their specific services and helps parents navigate finding the best education course for their child.

What are the guidelines you offer for parents whose child is entering kindergarten or first grade, but who aren’t sure if they are ready for a traditional education?

We encounter this frequently where parents may want them in the general education classroom, but it might not be where that child is at. We want to have communication between parents and hopefully the school to find out what it is that they’re looking for.

We are not an educational setting, but a lot of the skills we focus on with ABA (Applied Behavior Analysis) are to help them transition into a less restrictive educational setting. We need to be sure that we are aligning our strategies and techniques with what they can expect in the classroom.

It sounds like you advocate for parents who recognize that their child may be struggling with a traditional course of learning to engage with Apara Autism as soon as possible. Is that the case?

Correct, the conversation about school shouldn’t be happening a month before school starts. It needs to be happening the moment services start and we understand what the goals are. We look at the TEKS, the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills, that are posted online to see the readiness skills for a certain age group. We will try to apply that information into our therapy.

We also offer to sit in on the school’s ARD, annual review and dismissal meetings. It’s not required, but it allows us to advocate with the parents for the child and coach the parents through what they’re looking for and how to get that through school.

The first step is to speak to their pediatrician if they suspect their child may need our services.

Is this a transition process of phasing into a traditional school setting full time?

What we’ll do is—if we’re not sure if a child is ready to go full time in school—we work with the family to develop a schedule where they can be part time at the center and part time in school. We want to fade out our services to make sure that there’s a nice smooth transition from being in the center to being in the school setting, or whatever that less restrictive environment would be.

Lugo: For example, I was working with a student who was about to go back to high school. I asked him what his thoughts were about going back, and he was a little stressed out. He was thinking about moving forward and his future outside of school. Where he wants to go to college, if he decides to go that route. Thinking about getting a job. To help him deal with that stress, I played to his interests. He is a big fan of superheroes, animation and comedy, so I find ways to incorporate that into our sessions. It makes the conversation much easier for them, and they enjoy it. We’re always about making it into a fun and engaging learning environment.

Does Apara Autism of San Antonio also bring in outside providers, specialists, to help the students?

Yes, we have an occupational therapist who works on readiness skills: writing, scissor cutting, things that create structured learning. We’ve also worked with speech therapists, physical therapists, and music therapists.

Are there any other resources you recommend to parents?

Local libraries are a wonderful resource that I’ve referred many families to practice skills such as social groups for things like play days and structured group activities that are free to the public.

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