ABA Therapy Center or Traditional Preschool?

Which is the best option for my child?

ABA Therapy Center or Traditional Preschool Image

With a new school year right around the corner, many parents have been excitedly preparing to start their young child in some form of preschool. Whether private or public preschool, the anticipation to get started is full of every emotion you can think of. For families with a young child on the spectrum, this is compounded with an extra layer of concern for their child who may not be able to speak for themselves or navigate new environments the ways other children can. Often, this leads parents to choose a program designed especially for children on the spectrum or other special needs. Other parents opt for ABA therapy during these years. While ABA is not preschool, it’s the type of programming a young child with autism often needs in order to be ready for kindergarten with their peers.

Both settings can be great options, leaving parents with a challenging decision to make. Here is a breakdown of some similarities and differences to help parents make a more informed choice.

Comparing the Classroom vs the Center

Traditional preschool programs are usually staffed with one or two preschool teachers and a few aides responsible for a larger group of children. This leaves many opportunities for increased independence and social interaction among peers. Most ABA therapy programs have a 1:1 staff-to-client ratio, meaning each child would have a dedicated therapist working with them at all times. For young children who struggle with social skills and need a bit more support, this option could be more beneficial.

Traditional preschool classrooms primarily focus on learning and improving academic skills. There may be an overarching curriculum in the classroom with a set of guidelines for all children to follow. And of course, it provides structured learning opportunities and an introduction to the classroom environment. ABA therapy programs offer a completely individualized approach to care for each child and their specific needs. For parents who have concerns with their child’s development in areas such as speech and language, academic and cognitive skills, and overall behavior, ABA can assist with developing those skills. Both paths can lead to your child being kindergarten-ready when the time comes.

ABA therapy plans are tailored to each child’s needs, strengths, and challenges. A therapy plan is put in place to address behaviors, various levels of prompting to be used, etc. ensuring that therapy is targeted and effective. The ABA approach places a strong emphasis on positive reinforcement as well. Desired behaviors are rewarded or reinforced, while undesirable behaviors are ignored or redirected; thus encouraging the child to continue engaging in behaviors that will be rewarded. This approach is evidence-based and backed by decades of research.

Traditional preschool classrooms help children become accustomed to routines, group activities, and working with teachers. Independence is fostered and encouraged, with work around independently dressing, eating, and toileting. The schedule can be a bit more flexible in an ABA therapy center. Behavior therapists are prepared for children with different skill levels and varying attention spans. For example, therapists can allow a child to wander or take a bit more time to get acclimated before tending to a task. Having a dedicated 1:1 therapist ensures your child is safe within the center’s care and being monitored at all times. Therapists in the centers are able to provide support and encourage positive social interactions. Routines, life skills, and group activities still take place in an ABA setting, but with a more personalized approach for each child.

Generally, there is more communication between therapists and parents surrounding progress and behavior in a therapy setting. At the preschool, teachers will check in with parents on a quarterly basis or as needed. Here at Ally, we provide daily communication forms for parents highlighting what the child worked on throughout the day, who they’ve worked with, and any other major updates. In addition to the forms, parents are encouraged to attend monthly parent meetings with their child’s BCBA to discuss progress and share information. Staff work to coach parents on how to properly implement ABA strategies at home. Empowering parents with the tools to successfully work with their children at home leads to increased involvement and feedback around their child’s therapy plan.

Some select ABA therapy centers will offer other services in addition to ABA. Speech therapy, occupational therapy, and feeding therapy are some supplementary services typically sought out by parents to pair with ABA as a good plan to help their young child improve in their development. These multidisciplinary teams use a collaborative approach to ensure a robust treatment plan addressing all of your child’s needs.

What’s Best For Your Child?

It is important to note that while both environments present their separate benefits, each child is different and there is no one size fits all approach. An outgoing child who excels in social settings may need something different than a child who has a tendency to stay to themselves. Parents should consider their child’s personality, learning style, and individual needs before making a decision. It is a good idea to consult with any family members and or any professionals involved to determine if preschool or an ABA therapy center would be the right choice for your child.