Chances are if you have a child on the autism spectrum, you are or are going to be very familiar with special education. Before I had my own sons with autism, I received my bachelors in Special Education from Southern Illinois University at Edwardsville. After graduating, I was a substitute teacher and then landed a special education job for 4th and 5th graders at a school in Southern Illinois.
When I became a special needs mother I had an advantage over the majority of other new special needs parents. I knew about autism. I taught children with autism. Most importantly, I knew about special education and my rights as a special needs parent. Sadly, even though I was at an advantage, I still found myself lost in the system at times. There is so much to know in order to get your child the best education possible.
Even though your child has autism, he/she is still entitled to a “free and appropriate public education” in the “least restrictive environment.” In other words, your child deserves an education that meets his/her needs with their non-disabled peers as much as possible. So please do not feel like your child can’t benefit from school because they can — even with a diagnosis of autism. Sometimes, depending on the school district, the parent of the special needs child may need to be the “go-getter” and initiate a comprehensive evaluation of your child’s needs. This can’t be done without your approval. Even if your child has a medical diagnosis of autism, the school district still needs to do an evaluation on your child. The results of the evaluation will help the special education team and you to write your child’s Individualized Education Program (IEP).
The parent has just as much to do with the IEP as the special education team from your child’s school. In fact, the IEP is not supposed to be written until the IEP meeting with the parent/s. The IEP might be very confusing and hard to understand. I would suggest getting with your local advocacy group and having them educate you on the different areas of an IEP.
Your child is entitled to receive related services. Related services are those services your child needs to benefit appropriately from special education, such as occupational therapy, speech therapy, physical therapy, and counseling.
It would take a huge stack of papers for me to tell you all that you need to know about understanding special education. Just always remember that your child is entitled to what they deserve. Be a proactive parent and make sure you get educated on your schools special education program. Take the time to educate yourself on the special education law. It will truly only benefit you and your child.
Angela Conrad is a former Special Education teacher. She is a mother to two boys on the autism spectrum and a strong, autism advocate. She is the Walk Chair for the Walk Now for Autism Speaks in Terre Haute, Indiana. You can follow Angela ‘s page on Facebook, Two Brothers One Journey.
This article was featured in Issue 47 – Motherhood – An Unconditional Love