Unit I: School Readiness

1. Development of pre-learning skills: Attention, eye-contact, sitting tolerance, imitation, compliance, cooperation, turn-taking skills, on-task behaviour;

2. Development of pre-academic skills: matching, sorting, grouping, classification, pattern making, sequencing, labeling and other skills

3. Development of Pre-reading concepts: picture reading, alphabet identification,

4. Development of Pre writing concepts: controlled use of writing implements (column, written lines), scribbling, tracing, copying

5. Development of Pre-math concepts: such as big – small, far - near, more –less, counting and identification of numerals




1. Development of pre-learning skills: Attention, eye-contact, sitting tolerance, imitation, compliance, cooperation, turn-taking skills, on-task behaviour

Every child has a right to learn and gain knowledge, weather he is a typical kid or a child with disability. Learning does not starts and is not limited to going to school and academic knowledge. A child is ready to learn academics once he has attained the core pre-academic skills. Even before going to school, typical children learn a lot from their surroundings, by observation and as natural part of growing up. For children with autism the teaching process starts a step before. Children with autism do not naturally develop skills required for learning. They need to ‘learn how to learn’. Learning happens when the child is able to attend to a task and sit for some amount of time with a teacher.  Before starting with academic teaching, it is important to work on building the core skills required for learning. Some of these pre-academic skills are

1.                 Attending: children with autism generally find it difficult to attend to a task. They may not be able to filter out unnecessary stimuli and give attention to more important activity being performed. E.g even if you are trying to have them participate in a block game, they may be engaged in looking at the moving curtain. Our children lack joint attention where typically kids follow the line of vision of other person to look at the thing that the other person is looking/doing. For them attending has to be a learned skills. Attending skills can be improved by slowly increasing the time spent at an activity and pairing with preferred activities.

·                Make the environment as less distracting as possible. This may require setting up a place with less furniture and display items or removing things that may distract the child. 

·                 Identify the activities or things that the child is most interested in. They may not just be typical toys but things such as string, shaving foam, music or bubbles. 

·                 Pair the child’s preferred activities with other activities. Try to engage the child in an activity for some time and then change the activity if needed. The child may have different threshold levels for different activities depending on their interest. Initially, it could mean just doing the preferred activity of the child and then slowly transitioning him to other activities for short period of time. My daughter is very interested in music and my work time with her includes lots of rhymes with actions and facial expressions to sustain her attention in me. 

·                 When the child wants to leave an activity try to keep him for one more turn. Don’t make it a stressful situation. If he wants to leave the activity midway, help him complete the activity with full assistance (like hand over hand). 

·                 Develop familiar games and routines. Keep the length of activities short (maybe increasing later with time) to reduce frustration.

2.    Sitting Behavior: our children may not sit at the place easily. Developing a sitting behavior is essential for learning. To develop a sitting behavior, start slow and gradually increase the sitting time. E.g if a child can sit for 5 mins, the first target can be to increase the time by 7 minute.

·                Identify a set of motivating things for the child. These are called ‘primary reinforcers’. Out of these as well, there could be an item which is most motivating. That would be the highest reinforce (e.g out of chips, bouncy ball and video, video may act as highest reinforcerment). It is advised to prefer tangible reinforcers (which would finish on its own like food items) rather than non tangible ones which are required to be taken away. Primary reinforcers should be paired with social praise. 

·                Sit with the child along with a preferred activity. It could just be singing a song, reading a picture book, or sand play. Reinforce the child’s success in sitting for 5 minutes by praising him –‘good sitting’ and giving him a reinforcer. And continue for another 2 minutes of sitting for an activity. At the end of target time give the highest reinforce to the child. Pair the tangible reinforce with social praise. 

·                 To encourage the sitting behavior, follow the child’s lead and make the sitting time interesting by using motivating activities and changing activities as the need be.

Attending and sitting skills go hand in hand. If the child attends to a task, the sitting behavior improves. When starting out working with the child, it is most important to build a positive rapport with the child and make the interaction fun and least stressful. It may be needed to just sit and play with the child and not introduce any new skills at all for quite some time for developing the sitting and attending behaviors.


3.   Developing eye contact: Poor eye contact is one of the core symptoms of autism. Improving eye contact is not just important for learning process but is also a very basic social and communication skill. While working with the child make an effort to get an eye contact with him.

·                Sit at the eye level of the child. Even while talking to the child or giving instructions bend down at the child’s eye level and then talk. 

·                 If the child is looking away, move in his line of vision rather than moving his face towards you. 

·                 Always appreciate his efforts to make an eye contact. When he looks at you, smile and say ‘good looking at mumma’. 

·                 You can use motivating things to encourage eye contact. E.g hold a favourite toy right in front of your face to encourage him to look at you or cut a hole in paper and make a game of looking through it in turns. With Tuhina I use songs and rhymes to encourage eye contact. She looks very intently at me while I am singing and I smile and appreciate her looking. 

4.  Following basic instructions: if the child’s receptive language is much delayed, following teaching instructions may be difficult. Before starting with table top learning, it is important to develop understanding of a few basic instructions which could help the child in responding to you. Instructions like ‘touch’, ‘give’, ‘pick’, ‘point’  tells the child a way to respond.

·                Make instructions very short and clear. Instead of saying ‘give the car you are holding to me’, just say ‘give car’ and hold out one hand. 

·                 After giving instructions wait for a few seconds and if the child does not respond, follow through the instruction by guiding him physically to give the car in your hand.

5.   Turn taking and waiting: turn taking and waiting is also a learned skill for children with autism. These concepts can be taught using very simple turn taking games and activities like banging on a drum with a stick one by one.

·                Play very simple turn taking games 

·                 Use turn taking and wait cards 

·                 I found the use of count of 5 or 10 very effective for many situations. If Tuhina is holding onto a toy which she does not want to give up after her turn is over, I usually tell her that she has to give it back after count of 5. Then after counting till five I ask for it again and gently take it if she still holds on to it. This works wonders as it sets a prior expectation of what is going to happen and reduce tantrums. It also works great in situations for waiting and ‘hands quite’, which is also a challenging task for our kids.


Even if the child is older than pre-primary level and finds difficulty in these areas these are the skills that should be targeted first. Many of these skills can most effectively be practiced in day to day settings and interactions. There may not be easy and quick ways but there sure are ways. And who knows it may not as difficult as first anticipated. Never underestimate the capability of your child to surprise you.


2. Development of pre-academic skills: matching, sorting, grouping, classification, pattern making, sequencing, labeling and other skills

Pre-academic skills are part of cognitive development. Young children who develop these skills have better chances of succeeding later on at school, and carry the skills with them as they grow older.

Pre-academic skills include:

·      being interested in books

·      enjoying being read to

·      understanding that letters and numbers are symbols that mean something

·      being able to retell basic parts of a story

·      recognizing certain logos (e.g. McDonald’s golden arches)

·      being able to engage in simple and complex phoneme awareness exercises

·      identifying letters of the alphabet

·      matching forms and letters

·      demonstrating an understanding of one to one correspondence 

·      scribbling

·      imitating vertical and horizontal strokes

·      completing simple and complex sequences.

Of the five primary strands of mathematical discipline, sorting falls under algebra which encompasses the understanding of patterns and relationships.

So, a child who has developed strong  sorting skills will find it easier to:

·     Make matches

·     Identify sets

·     Classify items by single attributes

·     Classify items by multiple attributes

·     Recognize and create patterns

·     Understand patterns, relations, and functions

·     Compare sets for differences and similarities

·     Recognize relationships between sets

·     Understand how rules apply to sets

Meanwhile, a child who has not developed robust sorting skills may not only have difficulty later in math but also in:

·     Understanding how to connect new pieces of knowledge with what is already known

·     Making informed judgements

·     Making and enacting decisions

·     Coping with events that are out of routine

·     Dealing with the unexpected.

Classification is the skill of sorting or grouping items by similar characteristics, such as colors, shapes or sizes. Children naturally classify toys by type and sort crayons by color. Children between the ages of 3 and 4 years old enjoy sorting and classifying objects usually by one characteristic (color, shape or size). If preschoolers do not know the names of colors or shapes, it may be helpful to ask them to find something that is the same color or shape as a specific item. As children develop, they can classify by more than one characteristic, such as sorting the green square blocks.

Preschoolers benefit from exploring a variety of materials and making discoveries. When selecting materials for young children, avoid any small items that could pose a choking hazard. As children explore a bin of rocks and leaves, they can learn which items are big, little, rough, smooth, thick, thin, hard, soft, wet or dry. Children are learning to classify items by similarities and differences.

Matching is a simple form of sorting. It is finding items that are the same or alike, such as a pair of gloves. Matching can include finding items with the same specific characteristic (color, size or shape). For example, children can match two items that are the color blue.

Seriation is arranging objects in order by size, location or position. Ordering requires the ability to see differences and compare multiple objects. For example, children in the classroom could be arranged from shortest to tallest, or story picture cards could be sequenced in the order the events happened in the story.

Children observe patterns at school, at home, at play and in nature. They notice patterns in clothing, songs, nature and even their daily routine. Patterns are sequences that repeat. The ability to recognize patterns supports math skills. It helps children make predictions about what will come next.

The most common pattern is the ABAB pattern: red, blue, red, blue. Other patterns include the ABCABC pattern and AABAAB pattern. For example, circle, square, triangle, circle, square, triangle (ABCABC). Children can create patterns using colors, shapes, sizes or other characteristics that are repeated multiple times.

Teachers can promote math in the early childhood classroom throughout the day by building on everyday activities. Preschool math is about playful exploration and meaningful experiences.

Include items in the classroom and at home that promote mathematical thinking, such as manipulatives, measuring tapes, scales and rulers. Children gain an interest in mathematics by participating in hands-on experiences. It is also important for children to hear language focused on math concepts. Engagement in mathematical experiences helps children gain abilities in making predictions, solving problems, thinking, reasoning and making connections with their world.


3. Development of Pre-reading concepts: picture reading, alphabet identification,

Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) can face distinct challenges in learning to read. ASD is a spectrum, so the range of challenges is different for every child. But for many young children with ASD, it affects the development of foundational language and social skills. This impacts reading readinesscomprehension skills, and a child's overall approach to learning.

Letter knowledge/Alphabet identification is understanding that letters look different from one another and have their own name and sound. It encompasses everything involved in helping a child learn to identify letter names and sounds.


·       Sing the alphabet song

·       Teach name recognition.

·       Read alphabet books.

·       Do alphabet puzzles.

·       Challenge your child to describe the shape of each letter.

·       Point out familiar letters when out and about.

Print awareness is the understanding that the print on a page represents words that have meaning and are related to spoken language.

To develop this skill:


4. Development of Pre writing concepts: controlled use of writing implements (column, written lines), scribbling, tracing, copying

Pre-writing skills are the fundamental skills children need to develop before they are able to write. These skills contribute to the child’s ability to hold and use a pencil, and the ability to draw, write, copy, and colour. A major component of pre-writing skills are the pre-writing shapes. These are the pencil strokes that most letters, numbers and early drawings are comprised of. They are typically mastered in sequential order, and to an age specific level. These strokes include the following strokes: |, —, O, +, /, square, \, X, and Δ.

·       Hand and finger strength: An ability to exert force against resistance using the hands and fingers that allows the necessary muscle power for controlled movement of the pencil.

·       Crossing the mid-line: The ability to cross the imaginary line running from a person’s nose to pelvis that divides the body into left and right sides.

·       Pencil grasp: The efficiency of how the pencil is held, allowing age appropriate pencil movement generation.

·       Hand eye coordination: The ability to process information received from the eyes to control, guide and direct the hands in the performance of a task such as handwriting.

·       Bilateral integration: Using two hands together with one hand leading (e.g. holding and moving the pencil with the dominant hand while the other hand helps by holding the writing paper).

·       Upper body strength: The strength and stability provided by the shoulder to allow controlled hand movement for good pencil control.

·       Object manipulation: The ability to skilfully manipulate tools (including holding and moving pencils and scissors) and controlled use of everyday tools (such as a toothbrush, hairbrush, cutlery).

·       Visual perception: The brain’s ability to interpret and make sense of visual images seen by the eyes, such as letters and numbers.

·       Hand dominance: The consistent use of one (usually the same) hand for task performance, which allows refined skills to develop.

·       Hand division: Using just the thumb, index and middle finger for manipulation, leaving the fourth and little finger tucked into the palm stabilizing the other fingers but not participating.


This developmental sequence is:

·       Vertical Line – (Age 2 imitates, age 3 copies/masters)

·       Horizontal Line – (Age 2 1/2 imitates, age 3 copies/masters)

·       Circle Shape – (Age 2 1/2 imitates, 3 copies/masters)

·       Cross Shape (+) – (Age 3 1/2 imitates, age 4 copies)

·       Square Shape – (Age 4)

·       Right/Left Diagonal Line – (Age 4 1/2)

·       X Shape – (Age 5)

·       Triangle (Age 5)

Here are a few suggestions to help children develop pre-writing skills:

·       fine motor skill practice: lacing beads, play dough, interlocking building blocks, finger games, craft projects, buttoning, and more.

·       free time to scribble, draw and interact with pencil and paper.

·       working on a vertical surface

·       pencil and paper pre-writing tasks

Some benefits of working on pre-writing skills include:

·       Promoting proper hand grasp/pencil grasp on objects used in hands-on activities (such as tongs, paint brushes, grasping objects, etc). Particularly working on the pincer grasp will be helpful for future handwriting skills.

·       Hand strength needed to grasp a pencil

·       Hand manipulation skills needed to pick up and put down a pencil, plus moving a pencil to form letters across the paper.

·       Working on left to right pre-writing lines/shapes and letter formations

·       Finger dexterity and strength needed for handwriting assignments

·       Bilateral coordination in the hands to be able to hold the paper and write at the same time

·       Crossing midline and choosing a dominant hand for handwriting tasks


5. Development of Pre-math concepts: such as big – small, far - near, more –less, counting and identification of numerals

Pre-number concepts are the concepts a child needs to understand before starting with the identification of numbers. These are

·                Big/small

·                More/less 

·                 Long/short


Most typically developing children gather the understanding of these concepts from everyday environment and can work on these concepts directly through activities based on them. For kids with autism, we may need to introduce the concept in a learning environment before taking it forward to other settings. I take the example of big/small. The same teaching approach can be applied to other concepts as well.

The concept of big/small has two separate parts – concept of big and concept of small. Only one concept should be introduced at a time. So, first the concept of big is introduced and once the child is comfortable with it, the concept is small is taught.

Big/Small are abstract concepts and need a some basic skills to be achieved before they can be introduced. The pre-requisites are –

·                The child should be able to identify at least 20 common objects

·                He should be able to match pictures and objects

·                He should be able to match/sort by shape, color and size



The teaching material required would be

·                Set of objects exactly same except a significance difference in size e.g 2 similar balls, 1 bigger than another. To start with try to keep objects as similar as possible in all aspects except size so that there is only one differentiating attribute. As the child gets the concept we can start generalizing by increasing the dissimilarity in objects. 

·                 Set of cards with identical pictures, only differing in size – 2 set each (The size of cards should be same, only the size of picture should be different). Initially the size difference should be significant. It can be gradually reduced as the child masters the concept.

The steps of teaching are

Step 1 – Matching by size

Place identical pictures (which are same in all respect except size) on the table. Now present a picture from the second identical set and ask the child to match. The child should be able to match by size. The ability to visually discriminate sizes is the first step and should be achieved by the child before moving ahead with the introduction of the concept of big.

Step 2- concept of big (objects)

Place 2 identical objects (e.g ball) and point at the bigger ball and say ‘this is big’. Now ask the child to give/show the big ball. If the child reaches for the wrong ball, immediately direct him to bigger ball without letting the wrong action to complete. The same should be repeated with a variety of objects while randomly changing the position of bigger and smaller object. At this point the concept of small is not introduced. Even if the child reaches the smaller object, we do not introduce ‘small’. The other object can be addressed as ‘not big’.

Step 3 – concept of big (pictures)

Repeat step 2 with identical pictures. The size difference in the pictures should be significant. Use a variety of pictures and change position of cards as with objects.

Step 3 – Generalization

Once the child attains considerable accuracy with identical pictures/objects, we can introduce non identical objects and pictures e.g 2 dissimilar balls, 1 bigger than other. The size difference can be gradually reduced. However, depending on the level of child, the complexity should be gradually increased.

Step 4 – concept of small

After the concept of big is achieved, the concept of small is introduced in a similar way. When introducing the concept of small, the earlier concept of big should also be kept on maintenance.


If the child can work on worksheets, it is good to prepare worksheets such as coloring or circling the bigger picture. Another way to work on their new learning is to ask them to sort big and small objects.It is also important to generalize the concept in environment. While playing with the child ask him to bring the big ball or get the small spoon from table.

And finally every child has their own strengths. Make use of those strengths and improvise the strategy as per the child. If the child is tactile, make them touch the objects and hold on to the object to process the difference between big and small objects. Hope these steps would help in introducing the concept of big/small to kids with autism.


Number identification is the ability to identify the number that corresponds with a quantity. This is also called number representation or number recognition. For example, it is the ability to identify that the symbol “7” refers to the word “seven” and a quantity of seven objects.

Numbers Everywhere: Point out and name numbers on street signs, houses and buildings while you are outside or are on a field trip. Find numbers around the classroom on telephones, clocks, number charts, magnetic numbers and calendars.

Calculator Fun: Give children calculators and let them play with the numbers. Ask them to find the number that shows how old they are and show them the number that shows how many crayons (or other items) they use. Have them type in the numbers 0-10 in order.

Magnetic Numbers: Purchase a package or two of magnetic numbers. Allow children to match up pairs of the same number and put the numbers in order. Use a cookie sheet or magnetic board to practice.

Telling Time: Instead of reading times on a digital clock, try to use an analog watch with numbers and moving hands. Concentrate on telling the time on the hour at first. Ask, “How many big numbers are on the clock?”

Play Board Games or Card Games: Play simple board games or card games to count spaces on the board and objects used in the game, and to recognize printed numbers.

Counting is memorizing numbers in correct order (1, 2, 3, 4, 5…). Many preschool children (4 years old) can count up to five, some can count up to 10, and a few can count to 20 or higher. One-to-one correspondence is the skill of pairing or matching objects so that one object equals one number. That is, when we say, “one,” we count one object and when we say, “two,” we count one more object.

Ideas to try:

Counting Anything and Everything: Count real objects around the classroom. By counting real things, preschoolers can use their own experiences with objects to understand numbers better. Teachers can have children count food items (how many beans are on a plate), have them measure quantities when cooking (1/2 cup water in a recipe), or count coins together.

Counting Songs: Recite nursery rhymes and sing songs that include counting such as: One, Two, Buckle My Shoe; Five Little Monkeys Jumping on the Bed; This Old Man; Five Little Ducks; and The Ants Go Marching One by One. This will give children an opportunity to practice counting in a playful manner.

Counting Books: Read counting books with children. These activities will help children actually say aloud the numbers as they see or hear numbers and count objects together. Some good counting books include: Over in the Meadow by Ezra Jack Keats, The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle, Count by Denise Fleming, Five Little Monkeys by Eileen Christelow, Ten Black Dots by Donald Crews and Anno’s Counting Book by Mitsumasa Anno.

Clapping Numbers: While waiting in line, have children count as high as they can go. Have them clap as they say each number name. Add a new number each time you practice.

Mealtime Numbers: Have children count at mealtime by matching up napkins and spoons, counting plates and cups for each friend and teacher, or counting to make sure there are enough chairs for everybody for mealtime.

Sticker Counting: Count the steps as children go up and down, count the number of times the phone rings before you answer it, count the number of toys you put in a box, or count how many books you read during free play. Encourage children to put stickers on a piece of paper and have them touch each one as they count anything.