Home » Guide to Autism for Parents of Infants or Toddlers » Guide to Autism – Treatment Options » Autism Treatment Options for Children – ABA vs. School Services

ABA Therapy vs. School Services for a Young Child with Autism

After a child is diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), parents must make an array of difficult decisions regarding the next steps for their child in terms of treatment. Among these decisions is whether their child would best benefit from participating in a comprehensive Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) program or attend school with support.

When to Choose

Federal regulations require schools to provide an appropriate education for children with disabilities ages 3 and up in their “least restrictive environment.” This means that parents or guardians may choose to send their child with autism to school with support as early as age 3 but are not required to do so.

The age at which a child is required to attend school varies slightly by state. In Illinois, for example, a child must start first grade if they are 6 or older by September 1.

In short, if your child with autism is between the ages of 3 and 6 and has not entered first grade, you can choose to enroll in an ABA program or opt for a school placement.

Which is Better, Comprehensive ABA Therapy or School Support Services?

Because every autistic child is different, the better choice will depend on your child’s unique needs and current progress. To determine which option is right for your child, we recommend asking yourself the following question as a starting point: “Is my child thriving in his or her current placement?”

If your child is currently enrolled in school or a daycare program and is improving substantially, it is not recommended to change course. What is most important is that your child is improving and getting closer to reaching their developmental milestones in terms of communication, social skills, independence (e.g., toilet training, dressing, feeding) and school readiness skills (e.g., attending skills).

If your child is not substantially improving, a comprehensive ABA program will greatly help close the gap. ABA therapy is supported by a plethora of research as the most effective therapy option for individuals with autism. Missing out on a comprehensive program or losing access to comprehensive ABA services can have a detrimental impact on a child’s future quality of life.

How to Tell if Your Child with Autism Is Ready for School

It will be important to determine if your child is making enough progress to be ready for first grade or kindergarten. There are several self-assessments that can be used to determine whether your child is ready for a school placement depending on the grade. For example, The National Center for Learning Disabilities has created a lengthy toolkit to assess if a child possesses readiness skills. Some of the key skills your child should have prior to entering kindergarten are the following:

  • Speaks in complete sentences most of the time
  • Matches 2 like pictures in a set of 5 pictures
  • Understand and follows directions
  • Recognizes, copies or repeats patterning sequence
  • Retells a simple story after listening to a story with pictures
  • Interacts with other children.
  • Demonstrates independent skills (e.g., toileting, washing hands, dressing)
  • Separates from parents comfortably
  • Recognizes own name in print
  • Identifies two words that rhyme
  • Matches three letters to the sounds they make


School Readiness at The Place for Children with Autism

If your child has not yet entered the required school age (i.e., first grade) and does not appear to be meeting many of the assessment questions above, The Place for Children with Autism can help. The Place for Children with Autism is an award-winning ABA provider whose focus is to increase communication, social skills, independent living skills, reduce challenging behavior, and prepare children for the school environment. At The Place, children attend from 8am-4:30pm and each child has a 1:1 therapist. What is unique about the program is that therapy is provided in a school-like setting with access to activities such as circle time, music, art, and an abundance of social activities throughout the day.
At The Place for Children with Autism, once a child is showing readiness to move into a school placement, our trained clinicians will be a part of the transition process. Our Board-Certified Behavior Analysts (BCBA’s) will attend your child’s Individualized Education Program (IEP) meeting and ensure appropriate placements are in place.

Concluding Remarks

If your child is doing well in their current school placement with current support in place, then the school district and IEP supports are a wonderful alternative to ABA. You are also still welcome to seek out an ABA provider to work with your child after school to help with various skills.

Seeking a comprehensive ABA provider might be a valuable option for children to help prepare them for school and help them get closer to their developmental milestones. If you are noticing your child with autism may not be thriving in their current placement, please reach out to The Place for Children with Autism via the form below or by calling 224-436-0788.

We Change Lives Every Day

Interested in our services and inquiring about placement for your child?
We are now enrolling ages 2-6. Reach out today!

Get Started