About 130 children attend inclusive preschool programs at Southwest Autism Research & Resource Center Community Schools in Phoenix and Tempe, where typically developing children learn social and academic fundamentals essential to kindergarten readiness right beside children who have been diagnosed with autism.
Rachel McIntosh, community school director and senior clinical manager at SARRC, says inclusive preschool is a great option for all parents because of low student-teacher ratios and highly trained teachers. Plus, kids learn to appreciate and celebrate differences.
The preschool, for ages 18 months to 5 years, currently has a waiting list for children on the autism spectrum but continues to enroll typically developing students to enable the program to grow. McIntosh answered our questions about the program:
What is an inclusive preschool?
SARRC’s Community School provides high-quality early childhood education for typically developing children alongside children diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder. In each classroom, there are up to six children who have a diagnosis of ASD and up to 10 children who are typically developing. These peer groups learn alongside each other in classroom environments arranged by age group.
What are the benefits of an inclusive preschool to kids with and without autism?
The benefits we see among children who are neuro-typical and those with an autism diagnosis are countless. For typically developing students, they are learning at an early age how to embrace and love individual differences. They are learning compassion and acceptance — values they will carry for a lifetime.
For the children with ASD, they have an opportunity to build relationships with a wide range of peers and develop social/communication skills in a warm and loving environment. The changes we see in children after they go through SARRC’s Community School are almost too numerous to count. They leave prepared for kindergarten, with a confidence in their step that is [noticeable]. They have an awareness of human differences and how everyone has the ability to succeed.
Besides the blended-classroom model, what else stands out about your preschool?
SARRC’s Community School is a play-based model that focuses on increasing communication skills and social engagement. Through the use of highly motivating activities and toys, teachers are setting up endless opportunities within the child’s natural environment to increase skills across all domains.
What is the student-teacher ratio?
Our ratios (4:1) are some of the lowest you will find, and our teachers are bachelor- and master-level educated.
How do parents sign up for this preschool, and what does it cost?
The first step in the registration process is connecting with Amanda Cruz, our program assistant, and scheduling a tour of the Phoenix or Tempe campus. The cost for a typically developing child ranges from $20 per day for half-day preschool to $35 for a full day. Fees vary for a child with a diagnosis of ASD.
Learn more: 480-603-3299 or autismcenter.org/community-school
Editor Kara G. Morrison is the mother of Sofia (6). Reach her at kara@RAKmagazine.com.