The Center for Persons with Disabilities at Utah State University

ABC classroom supports children with autism

Three years ago, the Up to 3 Early Intervention program created the ABC classroom to work with young toddlers who exhibited symptoms associated with autism or Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD), or who have been diagnosed with ASD. 

Lead teacher of the ABC classes, Janel Preston, teaches four classes in Logan and two other classes in Box Elder County.  They meet two times a month (3 times in Box Elder) for 90 minutes.  Each class has 5-6 young children from the ages of 12-18 months up to three years old enrolled in it.  The teacher/student ratio is generally one-on-one, due to the trained staff at Up to 3 who work in each of the classrooms.

The ABC classes follow the Play and Language for Autistic Youngsters (P.L.A.Y.) program created by Richard Solomon, M.D. and based on the Developmental, Individualized, Relationship-based Floortime approach developed by Dr. Stanley Greenspan.

The goal of the P.L.A.Y. Project is to help parents become their child’s best play partner.   Parents attend all ABC classes so they can learn how to interact with their child in more effective ways.  The teachers coach the parents from the sidelines or model for them if needed on which strategies to use to engage their child as they are playing with them.

The focus of the play interactions is to follow the child’s lead and expand on what the child’s interests are at the moment.  Then the parents and teachers move them to more functional levels of behavior and more purposeful communication.

Janel follows up with the P.L.A.Y. approach as she meets with the parents and the rest of the family in their home once a month to coach them on how to engage the child during play in his natural environment. The parents/families are asked to spend at least one hour a day in focused play with their child, using the strategies that they have learned.

Up to 3 initiated a community-based component for the ABC families this past year.  During these monthly outings, families have a chance to participate in fun community activities that they might not feel comfortable taking their child to alone. These activities have included going bowling & ice skating, flying kites, feeding the ducks at the park, playing basketball, going to the grocery store, and playing at the local Fun Park.  Up to 3 staff attend these outings with the families to provide support and modeling for the parents.  Parents also have an opportunity to meet other parents who are dealing with the same challenges and have developed an informal support group.

The ABC classrooms play an important role in helping very young children with ASD.  Paired with the home and community interventions, parents who have children with autism have a great deal of hope as they see their children move out of their small little worlds and into the bigger world around them.