There is a lot to invest in a pre-school. After all, it is your child's first experience at school and can shape their orientation toward learning for years to come. If you're like most parents, you want a nurturing yet stimulating preschool environment for your child. And, if you have a child with special needs, you want to be absolutely sure those particular needs will be addressed. Some key considerations should be looked at closely when choosing a preschool for children with sensory processing disorder, autism or other sensory or special needs.
- Play Space. Is there plenty of space inside and outside for play? Preschool children need space to learn about their environment and to be able to explore. When you look at a preschool, make sure there is ample room for exploration and play. Are there play spaces such as tunnels or tents to crawl in and out of? Are the surfaces safe? Preschools follow specific regulations, and it's good to look around and confirm their compliance.
- Curriculum Integration. Preschool children should not be sitting down at desks to learn. Their curriculum should be integrated into movement and play. Inquire how the perspective program uses their curriculum to drive daily activities.
- Gross and Fine Motor Skills. Both gross (large) and fine (small) motor skills should be addressed daily. Gross motor includes running, jumping, climbing, scooting and hopping. Fine motor are activities such as art, puzzles, cutting and coloring. These skills are being developed during preschool years and should be addressed daily.
- Sensory Seating. Are there places to sit that are comfortable such as cushions? Crash pads? Beanbags? Are there designated spots for sitting on the floor? Having comfortable seating as well as defined seating can be comforting to young children and clarify boundaries. This is of particular interest to children with sensory processing disorder or autism where boundaries are not always clearly understood.
- Organization. Are the rooms organized? Is the teacher organized? Will your child be clear as to what is going on? Where is the schedule posted? Children with SPD need visual and auditory organizers such as wall charts, schedules, and timers to help minimize over or under stimulation.
- Behavior. Is there a clear behavioral system or chart? Is communication clear to children and to parents? What happens if your child misbehaves? It's essential to have a reward system for encouraging good behavior as well as clearly defined consequences for misbehavior. At the preschool level, consequences should not be seen as punishments but as a cause and effect.
- Sensory Diet. If your child is on a sensory diet, will that be addressed? Does the school understand SPD? Do they have specialized staff who are trained to handle children with learning and sensory differences?