Parents can spend hours looking for support for their children with autism, accommodations that can make learning and the environment a little easier. Some of the learning challenges that autistic children can face, along with sensory processing difficulties, and others that are specific to the student can make learning much more difficult.
It doesn’t have to be that way. There are laws that protect students of varying special needs and learning differences, making accommodations and support available.
In the United States there is the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) that works together with agencies like the Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP) to provide resources, information, and technical assistance to families with children that range from infants to youth. They also help families that haven’t received a diagnosis but suspect that their child may have a learning difference.
It is because of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act that an appropriate and free public education is available to children who qualify for the services. This is the law that makes sure that special education teachers, accommodations, and other services and support are available to those students.
What are accommodations and who is eligible for them?
Accommodations are an alteration to assignments or activity that can help students work with their learning difference, or gives them the tools to overcome the difficulty. An example is reading aloud and discussing a story to a student that has difficulty writing out their thoughts.
The assignments and expectations for the student are still there, they will be able to hear the same story and discuss it, like their peers, it’s just done a little differently. This can help the students succeed using their strengths and working around difficulties they may be experiencing.
The eligibility for these services is covered under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act and is available for students with diagnosis and students whose parents and teachers suspect that there may be a learning difficulty or difference.
In most cases parents can talk to their child’s teachers, or principal and discuss their concerns for their child. Depending on the area and the school, there may be additional tests and observations needed to better understand the student and their specific needs.
Special education teachers can work with the physical therapist, speech therapist, and other professionals to make sure that the accommodations are beneficial for the student. An Individual Education Program (IEP) can be created with the school’s team and child’s parent(s).
What is special education?
IDEA defines special education as:
“(3) Specially designed instruction means adapting, as appropriate to the needs of an eligible child under this part, the content, methodology, or delivery of instruction—(i) To address the unique needs of the child that result from the child’s disability; and(ii) To ensure access of the child to the general curriculum, so that the child can meet the educational standards within the jurisdiction of the public agency that apply to all children.”
Special education helps individualize content so that the individual can better understand and apply what they have learned to the study. What they have learned and understand will eventually become the habits and skills used in adulthood.
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What accommodations have been helpful for autistic students?
Any accommodation will be specific to the student. There are numerous support and services that are available for the autistic child at school and will depend on what the child qualifies for and needs.
According to the Michigan Department of Education:
“If a student is found eligible and in need of accommodations, the 504 plan will list accommodations and supports a school will provide in order for the student to have access to an education.”
The students who receive accommodations and other services that work alongside the special education support in their school . These supports could include, but not be limited to:
- physical therapy
- speech-language pathology
- an interpreter and other interpretation services
- mental health services
- occupational therapy
- early detection and early childhood interventions and services
- mobility assistance and services
- visual boards, social stories, and assistance
- Augmentative and Alternative Communicative (AAC) devices
- help with diagnosing and evaluating differing needs and special education services
- medical assistance including any health services
- social worker and other services
This is just a brief example of some of the services that could potentially be available for your child. Depending on their diagnosis, there are numerous other support and other alternatives to services that could be available and would be included in the creation of their specific IEP.
What are accommodations versus modifications for autism?
We have discussed that accommodations are a way of working with a learning difficulty or providing a way to overcome that difficulty by changing the way it is accomplished. We discussed that it could be something like having a read aloud and discussion about a book instead of having the student write and present a book report.
On the other hand, modifications are a change or alteration to assignments. An example is that the classroom is working on level 3 math and the child with an IEP works on level 1 because that is their current math level.
Although the student may not have work that is the same as their peers, they are able to work at their level and build their skills. The student generally goes to a different classroom and works with a special education teacher during these times.
These modifications and accommodations can work with autistic students and other students with learning challenges. They are available to help support the students and provide a way for them to better understand and succeed in the school setting.
This article has discussed what IDEA is and how the law protects and provides support and services for children with special needs, including autism and learning differences. How these services can look and some of the services that could be provided for an autistic student depends on what they qualify for and what is included in their 504 plan and/or IEP.
It is always a good idea for parents to talk to their child’s teachers and principal to get services started as soon as possible. Even if their child is already in a special education program, their child could benefit from other related services, like speech-language pathology or reading assistance.
Knowing what is available is a good first step. It is talking to those that can help within the school system and that know and can start understanding where the child is on their educational journey, what goals there are for the child, and how to get there.
That is why there are laws in place and support and services available. The ideas and examples provided in this article are just a starting point, each student is an individual, and talking to those that can assess and provide the support necessary is always the best way to get things started.
Center for Parent Information and Resources. (2020). Supports, Modifications, and Accommodations for Students. https://www.parentcenterhub.org/accommodations/
Michigan Department of Education. (2021). Family Matters Special Education 504 Plans Fact Sheet. https://www.michigan.gov/mde
U.S. Department of Education. (2023). Parents and Families. https://sites.ed.gov/idea/parents-families/#CCN)