Coping with Autism

The Individuals with Disabilities Act IDEA specifies that a child is legally entitled to receive early intervention services or special education services if the child meets the state eligibility requirements that define disability. In fact, the law mandates that the state provide all eligible children with a free and appropriate public education that meets their unique individual needs.

Autism is mentioned specifically in the IDEA as a condition that constitutes a disability. Therefore, if your child has been diagnosed with an ASD, this diagnosis is generally sufficient to determine that your child is entitled to the rights afforded by the IDEA.

As a parent you have a specific and important role in planning and monitoring your child’s individual education program. This role gives you the power, as granted by law, to be an advocate for your child’s development. Don’t waste the opportunity to exercise your rights on behalf of your child.

A free and appropriate education is one that is tailored to your child’s special needs and facilitates your child’s educational progress. This is not always easy. Determining which services are appropriate for your child, and therefore which ones will be provided for your child, is a collaborative process that may involve considerable negotiation.

Just as important as special programs, interacting with children who do not have a disability should always be a goal. Commonly known as “mainstreaming”, participating in the general education curriculum (as appropriate) is key to any child’s overall development. Known as the Least Restrictive Environment (LRE), this can be done with accommodations, or even a one-on-one (trained) aide to assist your child.

Each child has unique needs. In some cases, it may be of greater benefit to be nurtured in a home instruction program until he or she is ready for a classroom environment.

The IDEA provides federal grants to states that institute programs to provide early intervention services for children with disabilities, including autism. Any child younger than three years of age who has a developmental delay or a physical or mental condition likely to result in developmental delay is eligible to receive early intervention services. If your child is determined to be eligible, these early intervention services must be provided to you at no cost.

As your child’s legal advocate, make sure the mix of these services are determined by your child’s needs and not restricted simply by what your local area has to offer. The full range of services provided at this stage is detailed in a document known as the Individual Family Service Plan (IFSP). It is a written document that describes your child’s current levels of functioning and anticipated outcomes (goals) based on the results of a full evaluation of your child. The IFSP details the specific services that will be provided to meet the skill-based needs of your child and the needs of your family.

Early intervention services for your child range from special instruction such as ABA, to speech and language instruction, occupational therapy, physical therapy, and psychological evaluation. Family services include training to help the family reinforce the child’s new skills as well as counseling services to help the family adapt to the circumstances involved with raising a developmentally disabled child.

Beginning at age three, the law mandates that states provide special education services through the local school district. This is an important milestone. Whereas early intervention (up to age three) was focused on minimizing the overall developmental impact of your child’s disability, special education services ensure that your child receives an adequate education, regardless of disabilities or special needs.

Like the IFSP, this stage of the environment is spelled out in a document known as the Individualized Education Plan (IEP). And like the IFSP, the IEP defines your child’s needs and how these needs will be addressed by the school system. However, unlike the IFSP, the IEP is almost entirely about what happens within school walls.

Remember, as a parent, you are empowered by IDEA to be an equal partner with the government and the school district in determining what’s best for your child during all of these phases. Make it a priority to familiarize yourself with all of these documents in order to give your child and your family the best opportunity to cope with this disorder. You can always visit this web site for the latest news regarding this topic as well as submit any questions you may have. We will always do our best to get you an informed answer or point you to someone who can.