What are the Educational Options for Autism?
The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act of 1990 assures a free
and appropriate public education to children with diagnosed learning
deficits. The 1991 version of the law extended services to preschoolers
who are developmentally delayed. As a result, public schools must
provide services to handicapped children including those age 3
to 5. Because of the importance of early intervention, many states
also offer special services to children from birth to age 3.
The school may also be responsible for providing whatever services
are needed to enable the child to attend school and learn. Such services
might include transportation, speech therapy, occupational therapy,
and any special equipment. Federally funded Parent Training Information
Centers and Protection and Advocacy Agencies in each state can provide
information on the rights of the family and child.
By law, public schools are also required to prepare and carry out
a set of specific instructional goals for every child in a special education
program. The goals are stated as specific skills that the child will
be taught to perform. The list of skills make up what is known as an
"IEP"-the child's Individualized Educational Program. The IEP serves
as an agreement between the school and the family on the educational
goals. Because parents know their child best, they play an important
role in creating this plan. They work closely with the school staff
to identify which skills the child needs most. In planning the IEP,
it's important to focus on what skills are critical to the child's well-being
and future development. For each skill, parents and teachers should
consider these questions: Is this an important life skill? What will
happen if the child isn't trained to do this for herself?
Such questions free parents and teachers to consider alternatives
to training. After several years of valiant effort to teach Alan to
tie his shoelaces, his parents and teachers decided that Alan could
simply wear sneakers with Velcro fasteners, and dropped the skill from
Alan's IEP. After Alan struggled in vain to memorize the multiplication
table, they decided to teach him to use a calculator.
A child's success in school should not be measured against standards
like mastering algebra or completing high school. Rather, progress should
be measured against his or her unique potential for self-care and self-sufficiency
as an adult.
For all children, adolescence is a time of stress and confusion.
No less so for teenagers with autism. Like all children, they need
help in dealing with their budding sexuality. While some behaviors
improve in the teenage years, some get worse. Increased autistic
or aggressive behavior may be one way some teens express their newfound
tension and confusion. The teenage years are also a time when children
become more socially sensitive and aware. At the age that most teenagers
are concerned with acne, popularity, grades, and dates, teens with
autism may become painfully aware that they are different from their
peers. They may notice that they lack friends. And unlike their
schoolmates, they aren't dating or planning for a career. For some,
the sadness that comes with such realization urges them to learn
new behaviors. Sean Barron, who wrote about his autism in the book,
There's a Boy in Here, describes how the pain of feeling different
motivated him to acquire more normal social skills.
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