Many parents initially struggle when given the news their child has autism. Other parents are relieved there is an actual name for the situation they face every day with their child. Parents with autistic children have the same hopes and dreams for their children as other parents have.
However, many parents struggle to know whether the school program their child attends is a “quality” program. Here is a simple acronym (A.U.T.I.S.M.) to remember when determining how to help your child succeed during his/her school day.
Parents want a legitimate diagnosis for their child that outlines his/her strengths and weaknesses. Such a diagnosis is centered around professionals using valid, authentic, evidence-based assessments with the child. Parents often become overwhelmed with the variety of authentic assessments available for children with autism.
These assessments may need to take into consideration the age of the student and the severity of the autism, as well as cultural and linguistic considerations. There is a vast array of assessments available for children with autism. Parents should look for schools that utilize assessments that could include:
- Competency-based tools such as interviews with the parent, teacher, and child
- Observations conducted in the classroom
- A review of medical evaluations such as a full audiological exam to rule out a hearing loss that could contribute to a communication disorder or behavioral concerns
- A full speech and language evaluation by a certified speech-language therapist using such instruments as: Peabody Picture Vocabulary Test (PPVT), Expressive One Word Picture Vocabulary Test (EOWPVT), etc.
Other competency-based testing could include the following instruments: Vineland Adaptive Behavioral Scale – Second Edition; Assessment, Evaluation and Programming System (AEPS); Verbal Behavioral Milestones Assessment and Placement Program (VB-MAPP); Sensory Profiles; Autism Diagnostic Observation Scale (ADOS); Asperger Syndrome Diagnostic Scale (ASDS); Child Autism Rating Scale (CARS); Social Communication, Emotional Regulation and Transitional Support Model (SCERTS); Parental Rating Scales; Social Skills Checklists; etc.
Understanding from the school community
Parents should communicate regularly with principals, teachers, therapists, and special education personnel to see if they have experience working with autistic children. Parents need to ensure services are available from a qualified special education teacher with background training in autism, as well as physical therapists, speech and language therapists, occupational therapists, and adaptive physical education therapists to meet the educational needs of their child.
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Teamwork with parents
Parents need to be active members of their child’s Individualized Education Program (IEP) Team. Working collaboratively with both their child’s special education teacher and regular education teacher is critical to his/her daily success at school. Keeping these professionals informed about any involvement your child has with outside agencies and therapies will assist with generalizing his/her skillset from school to home and vice versa. Displaying a positive and engaging attitude with the educators involved in your child’s education will also help develop open and honest communication.
Research indicates students with disabilities have a better chance of being actively employed as adults if they have been integrated with students who are non-disabled. Parents need to look within their school and help find ways for their child with autism to be included in the school community.
Some students with autism may spend all day in the regular classroom with neurotypical peers. Some may only be present on a part-time basis. Regardless of the time students are integrated into a regular classroom, many students with autism can benefit by being included in elective classes such as art, computers, physical education, and music classes.
Parents will also want to ensure inclusion occurs during lunch and recess. This allows individuals with autism unique opportunities to practice their social skills daily. It will reveal to neurotypical students that the child with autism is not a “visitor” to their classroom, but a fully functioning member of the student body.
Self-advocacy is an important skill for any student on the spectrum. It is essential your child understands he/she has autism and the accommodations he/she requires to be successful. A student can’t self-advocate for something he/she doesn’t know about.
Yet, self-advocacy can be tricky for a student with autism to understand. If he/she doesn’t advocate for himself/herself, educators may feel he/she doesn’t have the skill set or competency to do so. But many students with autism also report receiving negative results when attempting to self-advocate. Teachers may claim they are “complaining or whining” or are “using their disability” to get out of doing something. Your child with autism may view self-advocating as a “lose-lose” situation.
Parents can assist with this situation by practicing self-advocacy skills at home. Having a classroom teacher or school counselor practice these skills at school or in a social skills class will help with generalizing these skills across both the home and school environments. Parents can also ask their child’s teachers how self-advocacy is taught, encouraged, and practiced at school. When self-advocacy is encouraged and received positively at your child’s school, he/she will be encouraged to self-advocate more.
Memories from a childhood celebrated
Students with autism need to be celebrated in their school environment. Parents can ensure a classroom environment is positive by volunteering at the school and having a physically positive presence. Parents should look for school programs that celebrate all students (including those with autism) academically, socially, and through involvement in extra-curricular activities.
Parents who are actively involved in the classroom can meet other parents as well as the students from the classroom. Developing positive relationships with these individuals can open up doors to social opportunities for their child with autism.
Parents need to ensure the educational programs they place their children in have a good track record of allowing parents to be actively involved in their child’s classroom and in programs throughout the school. Schools that celebrate the achievements of all students, including those with autism, show the value and importance of these students to the entire school community.
This article was featured in Issue 104 –Transition Strategies For Kids With Autism