Acquiring services for your child with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) may seem as challenging as getting help from the Wizard of Oz. Parents reach out to schools with information about their child’s diagnosis and request help, but receive answers they don’t understand. Many people think a diagnosis of ASD automatically opens the door to special education, but that is not necessarily so.
For those who have been diagnosed with high-functioning autism, also known as PDD-NOS, Asperger’s Syndrome, or ASD level 1, the limiting effects of autism may not be strong enough to warrant any support. They may maintain average grades and pass EOGs and EOCs with flying colors; for these fortunate students, autism helps them perform well in school.
If students with mild ASD struggle in school but do not need specialized instruction from a special education teacher, then they may qualify for a 504 plan. A 504 plan does not involve special education and is carried out by regular education teachers. It is a plan created by the school’s guidance department, based on your child’s specific needs. The plan will include strategies, called accommodations, to help your child succeed in school; possible accommodations include preferential seating, test read aloud, multiple testing sessions, test in a separate setting, use of a keyboard to type, extended time for tests and assignments, previewing content before instruction, a copy of the book or access to online instructional materials for use at home, use of a slant board to improve posture, room to move or pace, and use of a fidget to increase concentration. (See a complete list of possible accommodations.)
Please note that modifying the assignments – shortening what is required or changing the curriculum – is not allowed.Under 504 plans, the curriculum should not be changed so the student can achieve. The work must be equitable to what a typical student must do to pass the course. Students who have 504 plans do not need Individualized Education Programs (IEPs),which will take them away from regular class instruction, and students with IEPs would not benefit from a 504 plan, as they do not include the specialized instruction that these students need to succeed.
If your child has a 504 plan and it is not being honored by a teacher, contact your school’s guidance counselor. If nothing happens, you can take that complaint up the chain of command to the principal, area superintendent (assuming your school system has one), and the superintendent’s office. You may also contact the ASNC Autism Resource Specialist for your area. A final source of recourse is to file a complaint with the NC Office of Civil Rights.
Individualized Education Programs (IEPs)
If there is question about whether a 504 will provide adequate instruction (the student is failing their grade, EOGs, EOCs, reading and math standardized tests, etc.) then the school staff or parent can ask for permission to evaluate for special education. To qualify for services, the student must meet the criteria for autism, which has four areas (communication; social interaction; sensory responses/experiences; and restricted, repetitive, or stereotypic patterns of behavior, movements, or activities). To be certified for special education services, a student must exhibit difficulties in three of the four areas, and the challenges must be such that they affect the student’s ability to access the regular education curriculum. These students qualify for an IEP, which outlines the special education services they will receive in the least restrictive environment where they can achieve.For more information, view ASNC’s IEP toolkit.
Please note that some students with autism and ADHD may qualify for services under the category Other Health Impaired, especially when their ADHD affects their learning, but their autism does not. Some possible classifications under which a student with autism may be served if they have more than one disability or the other disability affects their learning, but their autism does not: Multiply Handicapped, Intellectually Disabled, Severe Emotional Handicapped, Specific Learning Disability. In these cases, parents have the right to ask for outside evaluation if they can show that the autism was not considered in the evaluations that were given to determine the category of special education need. The school system will provide the parent with a list of approved test administrators, and the school will pay for the testing.
Most IEP goals are based on the student’s Present Level of Academic and Functional Performance. This lists the student’s strengths and needs in each academic area. Anything noted as a need should have an IEP goal listed to address it. Goals should be written in a logical sequence with increasing skill level (say and identify 13 of 26 lowercase letters; say and identify 20 of 26 lowercase letters; say and identify 26 of 26 lowercase letters) and scope of knowledge (say and identify 26 or 26 lower and uppercase letters with 80% accuracy) over time (in 4 of 5 trials). Schools are given freedom to measure goals in a way that makes sense for teachers, but they must follow basic parameters.
Because they have autism, a lot of our students become overwhelmed by social interactions, executive-functioning skills, sensory issues, or a lack of functional knowledge that affects academics. Remember that IEP goals can be written to address any issue that interferes with the student’s ability to access the curriculum. Goals should be written so they reflect the instruction that the student will be given to help them learn new skills or new tools, such as social-skills instruction, use of headphones, use of a schedule, use of a break card… rather than just stating that the student will use the appropriate behavior. Just because someone is handed a new tool to use, doesn’t mean they will magically know how to use it without some instruction. We wouldn’t just hand someone a calculator or new web tool and expect them to use it consistently and accurately without being shown how.
The IEP DEC 4 section, which breaks down how the student’s time will be spent in special education classes, inclusion, and related services, should include time reserved for any special instruction that cannot be offered during the typical daily curriculum (math, reading, writing). When it is appropriate, the school guidance counselor can include our children in social-skills groups. Students who have already qualified for speech as a related service may also be included in groups dealing with social skills led by the speech language therapist. In many cases where our students are served in a self-contained class or a block resource, the special education teacher can provide the instruction in class.
Parents are often unsure how to address needs in their child’s IEP. If your child is doing poorly in school because of academic, sensory, social, or organizational needs, these concerns should be noted on the IEP DEC 4 page one under the parent concerns section. This opens the door for IEP goals that can address those concerns. Near the end of your child’s IEP meeting, if those concerns have not been addressed, ask the teachers again to address them.If they are still not addressed, ask that your concerns be noted in meeting minutes; in some school systems this is the DEC 5, which summarizes the meeting. At that point, you can ask for a new IEP meeting to address your concerns. The school should schedule a new meeting in a reasonable amount of time: about 10 days. During that time, you can contact your local ASNC Autism Resource Specialist so they can look over the newly written IEP to see whether it adequately addresses your concerns. Your ARS can provide you with your next level of support within the school system: the Autism Support staff, the EC ICT, or the Exceptional Children’s Director for your county. In the unfortunate case that your child’s needs are not being met and the school is in violation, your ASNC ARS can instruct you on how to advocate for your child through the NC Department of Public Instruction Exceptional Children’s Department.
Charter schools are becoming a popular option for families. Because they function as a public school, they are required to follow the same guidelines as public schools in regards to the education of students with disabilities. The NC Department of Public Instruction has created a support network across the state to assist charter schools with the development and maintenance of appropriate education and support for students with disabilities. You can contact your ASNC Autism Resource Specialist to find the name and contact information for the Charter School Specialist that serves your area.
Please note that private schools and church-run schools are not bound by the same laws as public and charter schools.Legally they do not have to provide for a child with special needs.Private schools do not have to create or honor an IEP that is current. Legally, you cannot insist that your child be taught by a state-certified special education teacher. The safeguards put in place to support children with disabilities, such as three-year evaluative testing, are not required. You are free to enroll your child in a private school, but there is little you can do to advocate for special supports they may need.
Sometimes, private schools do provide services for students.Parents can ask for a meeting in which a Services Plan for a Parentally-Placed Private School Student is created. The private school staff should help the parent contact the appropriate public school staff to set the meeting in motion. This plan outlines much of the same information as an IEP, listing what services will be provided by whom, when, where, and how long. Especially in cases of preschool-age children whose parents or teachers may suspect have a disability, the school system’s Child Find Advocate can work with the family to set up testing. If a disability is found, the school may negotiate with the parents and private school to set up Services Plan for a Parentally-Placed Private School Student. Generally, services are limited compared to what the student would receive if he or she were placed in public school and often those are drive-in services, such as speech or OT. At times like these, you must think about which location will provide the best support for your child.
- IEP Questions and Answers: June 6 in Fayetteville
Find books on autism and education in the ASNC Bookstore. Here are some recommendations:
- We Said, They Said
- Getting to Yes
- Getting the Best for Your Child with Autism
- Parents Have the Power to Make Special Education Work
- When the School Says No, How to Get the Yes!
- Wrightslaw: From Emotions to Advocacy
- Wrightslaw: Special Education Law
- Demystifying Transition Assessment
Contact an Autism Resource Specialist near you.
Nancy Nestor can be reached at email@example.com or 704-894-9678.