Autism Services for Young Children

A basic rule for identifying and supporting children with autism is the earlier the intervention, the better. The coordinated, structured services provided by hundreds of Easterseals early intervention programs across the country help preschool children with autism learn skills they’ll need to be successful in school.

Going to Preschool

Easterseals' Child Development Center Network is the largest provider of inclusive child care in the United States. With more than 90 centers across the nation, Easterseals provides personalized, appropriate treatment plans that use play and language to take into account the "whole child" and the child’s family.

Common Programs for Students with Autism

Many different intervention strategies are used to educate individuals with autism. The “big three” are the most commonly used methodologies:

Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA): An applied behavior analytic program includes an individual assessment to determine the skills that a student with autism does — and does not — have. Skills are then broken down into small steps and taught systematically. The goal is to help each student develop skills that will enable him or her to be as independent and successful as possible.

Developmental, Individual-Difference, Relationship-Based (DIR). The DIR/Floortime approach focuses on helping children master the building blocks of relating, communicating and thinking.

The Education of ASD and Related Communication Handicapped Children (TEACCH). The TEACCH system emphasizes structure by organizing the physical environment. TEACCH uses visual cues, schedules and work systems to help make expectations clear to students with autism.

Understanding "Inclusive" Care

The practice of inclusive child care — placing children of all physical, emotional and academic abilities in the same learning environment — benefits children of all abilities. Easterseals' experience shows that children with ASD significantly benefit from receiving appropriate care alongside their typically developing peers. Children without disabilities benefit, too — they learn to understand and accept differences. What’s more, the experience replicates what children will find later in life.

What to Look for in a Preschool Program

Following guidelines from the National Institute of Mental Health, Easterseals inclusive child care centers feature treatment programs that:

  • build on the child's strengths
  • offer a predictable schedule
  • teach tasks as a series of simple steps
  • actively engage the child's attention in highly structured activities
  • provide regular reinforcement of behavior

Read Easterseals' suggestions for how to choose an early intervention provider.

Communicating with Others

Communication and socialization are two of the core challenges for children with autism. A child with autism can learn to use symbols, aids, strategies and techniques to enhance communication. Easterseals can provide a treatment plan to promote effective communication.

Making Friends and Learning Social Skills

A variety of diverse training techniques — including group and direct instruction — assist children with autism in learning to recognize social cues and to communicate and participate successfully in social situations. As with the other treatments, this training will vary depending on individual need.

Enjoying Family Life

Daily living skills can be challenging to a child with autism. Occupational therapy and speech and hearing therapy can help a child with autism learn:

  • fine motor skills to help with activities such as writing and simple house chores
  • self-care skills such as toileting, getting dressed and eating
  • pre-work skills such as paying attention to a task

With the help of Easterseals professionals, family members can also play an integral role in supporting individuals with autism to become more independent.

Finding Qualified Child Care Providers

Families can find a break or “respite” by having a professional come to the home to provide support services or enrolling a child in a day or weekend program. This allows the parents to partake in recreational, social or other important activities with siblings or with each other. Learn more about Easterseals' respite, recreation and camp programs.

Getting Ready to Start School

Educators at Easterseals inclusive child care centers use specialized approaches and instruction to prepare preschoolers with autism for entry into the school system. A preschool curriculum that promotes school readiness through social skill development, independent living skills and personal responsibility teaches preschool children the skills that are vital for future success in school.

Powered by Blackbaud
nonprofit software