Understanding Preschoolers with Special Needs

Autism image

Autism spectrum disorder is a developmental disability identified in about 1 in 68 children, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.1 Autism can be diagnosed in preschoolers as early as age 2, and many parents notice developmental delays in their child during the first year. As a preschool teacher at church, you may have a time when you teach a preschooler who has autism. What are some ways of teaching and caring for a preschooler with autism?

  • Begin by including the preschooler and his or her parents in your prayers. Pray for God to guide you as you become a part of this preschooler’s life through church activities.

  • Stay connected with the preschooler’s parents. Ask the parents what skills they are working on at home and how you can include these as you care for the preschooler at church. Communicate with the parents often.

  • De-clutter the classroom to avoid overstimulation. Recognize the elements that might cause distractions for this preschooler. For some preschoolers it might be too many colors on a wall, for others it might be too much noise, or the lighting may be too bright. The parents can help you know if these factors impact their preschooler.

  • Use visual prompts, as many preschoolers with autism are visual learners. For example, take a photo of the block area to post on the shelf so the preschooler can see how to put the blocks on the shelf. As you teach, use Bible story pictures and photos of the missionaries and the places where they serve.

  • Use simple language with short sentences. Give short instructions, and say 1 step of instructions at a time so the preschooler can process it. Repeat instructions.

  • If you give instructions and the preschooler does not respond, then reword the instructions.

  • Remember that preschoolers with autism are literal-minded. Avoid using symbolism or sarcasm.

  • Give specific choices for the preschooler. You might give the choice of 2–3 colors of construction paper instead of all the colors in the pack.

  • Adjust activities as needed to allow the preschooler with autism to participate.

  • Choose activities that would be of interest to the preschooler. What does she like to do? What does she do well?

  • Let the preschooler know beforehand when there is going to be a transition or change in activities.

  • Provide help with social skills. Preschoolers with autism may need help in taking turns or how to ask a friend for a toy. Some preschoolers may need help in knowing the appropriate space to allow when talking or playing with a friend.

  • Make other preschoolers aware of the needs of the preschooler with autism and ways they can be of help. Foster friendships.

  • Consider pairing the preschooler with another preschooler to work on an activity together from time to time.

  • Be aware of changes in the preschooler’s behavior that might show anxiety.

  • Affirm the preschooler by giving praise when she makes attempts and has accomplishments.

Be reminded of the words of David in Psalm 139:14, “I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made.” God made each preschooler in your care. May He bring you blessings as you teach and care for a preschooler with special needs, and may your love become a blessing to this preschooler.


1cdc.gov/ncbddd/autism/data.html, accessed on July 27, 2017.

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