THE FIRST CHOICE FOR INCLUSIVE EDUCATION
From the experience of a parent with a child on the spectrum
Like all parents, you want your child to receive the best possible education — one that meets your child’s unique needs. Finding an appropriate placement however can be challenging. But there is much you can do to make sure your child gets the education he or she needs — and is entitled to.
If your child is three or older, educational and related services will be provided by your local school district. They will evaluate your child and work with you to plan his or her educational plan. Each child with ASD has unique academic strengths and needs. This means a “good education” can be hard to define, and will vary depending on the child and the school district. Many school districts will have the experience, commitment, staff and resources to meet your child’s individual needs. But, some districts lack the funding and/or services required to appropriately educate children with ASD.
Also there is no “gold standard" for autism education. Services and programs can differ from district to district, and may change when new trends come or special education directors go. Children may be handed a mixed bag, instead of the curriculum that’s right for them.
But take heart. You don’t have to accept what’s not in the best interest of your child. Many parents before you have been successful in getting their kids exactly what they needed. Read on to find out how.
You know your child better than anyone else and have his or her best interests at heart. It’s up to you to take an active role in planning your child’s education.
Flex Your Parental Rights
You have power as a parent to influence the educational decisions being made for your child. The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) guarantees that the state will provide your child with a free and appropriate education that meets his or her unique needs. It also gives parents an equal say in determining the curriculum and services that are right for the child.
Take the time to understand your rights and get ready to be your child’s advocate. Learn how decisions are made in your district, and by whom. Ideally, you will collaborate with the school district or early intervention agency to get your child the help he or she needs. But, good special education programs can be costly, and resources may be limited. You may have to fight to get the placement and services your child needs. This, unfortunately, is a common occurrence, so make sure you learn how to navigate the system. And use your parent power wisely!
Do Your Homework
Start learning as much as you can about the schools in your community. Study their programs and services. Are you looking for a special education school or a mainstream public school? Ask questions. How many kids with ASDs are enrolled? What’s the class size and teacher to student ratio? Are there special education classes? Can your child be included in an integrated class that includes typical kids and special ed kids? Are the teachers, principals and students used to having students with ASDs in a regular class? How is progress measured, and how often?
Other questions to consider: What special services are offered at the school? If your child requires speech, physical and occupational therapies, does the school offer this? If so, are they one-on-one or group therapies? How many days per week will your child get these services?
Talk to other parents in your district. Find out what they think of the school. You can learn a lot from their experiences as you start working the educational system.
Weigh Your Options
Your school district may offer a range of educational options for your child. Some children on the autism spectrum attend ABA-based classes, some spend part or all of the day in a small group with other kids who have other developmental disorders. Others may attend a special class but may also spend time each day with typically developing peers in a mainstream setting supported by a shadow.
Placement will be determined by your child’s unique needs and abilities. The goal of your school district will be to place your child in the least restrictive environment (LRE) where he or she will be able to learn. But LRE can mean many things such as an ABA school or class, a mainstream class or regular education with support. You will have a say in your child’s placement. Some options that may be explored or proposed are:
If you are not sure which educational placement is right for your child, consult with specialists like the school psychologist, service providers, and evaluators. They base their decisions on your child’s developmental skills — academic, social and behavioral. Sometimes, a child who starts out in a special school for autism transitions out to a mainstream school in a regular classroom. Other times, a child might be placed in a special education class in a mainstream school and receive additional support, such as speech therapy. There are many educational opportunities that exist for children on the spectrum. Choosing the right one for your child will involve many considerations (i.e., learning style, behavioral needs, age, social skills and so on).
As you prepare to work with your school district, think carefully about your child’s current abilities and challenges. Your ultimate goal? To find the placement and services that best fit these needs. By being aware, active, and when necessary, an advocate, you will be able to give your child the most effective education.
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