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Wondering if your Autistic Child is ready for “big-school”?

In South Africa a normal developing child will go to “big-school” from around the age of 6 years.  Some will start when they are 5 and others with development delays may only start in Grade R or 1 in the year, they turn 7. 

The confusing part for many parents comes in when they expect that their 7-year-old start grade 1 just because they are 7 years old.  Sadly, it does not work this way.  “Big-school” is about a Curriculum.  It is about communication & group learning, taking and following instruction, writing and academics.   

The Curriculum and Assessment Policy Statement (CAPS) was approved as National Policy and published in the Government Gazette 34600 in 2011.  The National Curriculum Statement was approved for all subjects from Grade R – 12. 

What this basically means is that all schools follow one Curriculum (at least all Government schools).  There are other Curriculums offered at a few private schools, home schools and cottage schools but for the sake of this article we will refer only to the National Curriculum Policy. 

Children need to be school ready and often the autistic child will struggle with some of the minimum entry requirements for “big-school”.  One of the biggest challenges a child with autism faces will be Speech and Communication

From Grade R the CAPS curriculum focusses heavily on a child’s ability to speak, answer & ask questions as well as participate in classroom discussions.  There are however other Language development school readiness challenges the child may face which will include aspect like:

  • Age-appropriate use of expressive language which includes the ability to ask questions and ability to formulate structure sentences to make him- or herself understood.
  • Age- appropriate receptive language – meaning the ability to understand and comprehend spoken language that the child hears or reads.
  • Age-appropriate ability to listen and follow instruction and direction (receptive language)
  • His/her ability to sing rhymes and songs in class
  • His/her ability to use structures sentences
  • Age-appropriate ability to take turns
  • Age-appropriate ability to share
  • Social emotional school readiness (group integration and participation in group activities, learning, extra mural activities and play)

Speech and Communication delays in young children does not always mean Autism Spectrum Disorder.  But parents need to understand that Speech and Communication delays will impact a child’s ability to go into a “big-school” environment on many different levels and we therefor urge families to seek Speech Intervention or Autism Intervention from a young age. 

Ilse Kilian-Ross

Ilse Kilian-Ross is the owner of Amazing K, a registered ECD and Partial Care Facility in Johannesburg. Amazing K is a private adhd school, autism school and therapy centre for children from age 2 - 6 years where learners receive the best of both the schooling and therapy world. The autism school offers Individualized Education Programs, Speech- and Augmentive Alternative Communication (AAC) therapy as well as a full and adapted Academic Curriculum.