All parents want a high-quality education for their children. This can be challenging in the best of circumstances. The challenge is greater when your child has a disability. Students with autism spectrum disorders face many difficulties in the classroom, but they can be successful, with certain accommodations. But what are these accommodations, and how can you convince your school to put them into practice?
Accommodations For Students With Autism
Not all students with autism are the same, but there are certain accommodations that tend to be helpful to most in a classroom setting. Here are the most common:
All children benefit from a structured environment, but this is vitally important for children with autism, who have difficulty adapting to change. They will do better in a classroom with a fixed schedule that does not vary much from day to day.
Children with autism are visual learners. Many have difficulty processing spoken language, so visual cues are essential. Many teachers print out pictures to represent the various subjects. Students attach these pictures to a Velcro strip, giving them a visual representation of their day. This gives them a sense of control and safety at school. It is also important to supplement academic content with visual aides.
Short, Concrete Language
Most children with autism have difficulty processing spoken language. It is important for teachers to keep their instructions short and direct. It is better to say, “Put on your coat,” instead of, “What a nice day, let’s go outside.” It is also important to avoid joking or sarcasm, which will be taken literally by a student with autism.
Address Sensory Needs
Most children with autism will not be able to sit still for long periods of time without some accommodations. Common strategies include scheduled breaks, weighted pads or vests, and fidget toys. A good occupational therapist can evaluate your child and recommend the accommodations that are appropriate.
Working With The School
Now that you have some strategies to help your child, how do you convince the school to implement them? Legally, your school is required to provide a free and appropriate education to all individuals with disabilities. Most school districts are eager to help, but it is important for parents to understand their legal rights.
Your child has the right to a free and appropriate education in the least restrictive environment possible. You have the right to request an evaluation if you have concerns about your child’s development or academic performance. You have the right to be a member of the team when deciding on appropriate placement and accommodations for your child. You have the right to due process if you feel the school is not following through on their responsibilities.
Individual Education Plan (IEP)
An Individual Education Plan (IEP) is a legal document outlining the goals and accommodations the school will provide for your child throughout the school year. Your child will have concrete, measurable goals, in each subject area and domain. The school is responsible for documenting progress towards the realization of each goal.
Each goal should be measurable. For example, a goal would not state, “Student will improve reading comprehension skills,” which is too general and difficult to prove. Instead, the goal should spell out exactly what the student will accomplish. For example, “Student will answer questions about a written passage with 50% accuracy.” Each goal should have benchmarks, which delineate progress. For example, the first benchmark for the above goal might be 50% accuracy; the next might be 75%, then 85%.
Children on the autism spectrum should also have goals relating to social-emotional development. Some of these goals will be implemented in the classroom, while others will be addressed in speech, occupational therapy, or social work sessions. The IEP should also list any accommodations your child needs, such as breaks or weighted vests.
The IEP is a legal document, and if the school fails to adhere to it, you have the right to due process. If the school is not providing your child with a satisfactory education, you have options. Some parents decide to bypass the school system entirely and homeschool their child.
Advantages Of Homeschooling
Many parents feel they can meet their child’s educational needs more effectively than the school. Today’s public schools face a variety of challenges, from increasing class sizes to issues with bullying and drugs. A homeschooling program can be tailored specifically to your child’s needs. Students with autism benefit from one-on-one instruction, without the distractions of a typical classroom. Parents can provide any accommodation necessary, and can integrate their child’s personal interests into the lesson plans. Many parents also feel that the social pressures of school can be detrimental to a child who struggles to fit in. They can offer social opportunities through homeschooling groups and one-on-one play dates that are less stressful to the child.
Disadvantages Of Homeschooling
Homeschooling is a huge responsibility. Parenting a child with autism can be overwhelming. Taking on the added responsibility of educating your child can be too much for some parents. Homeschooling also requires one parent to be at home during the day, which makes it difficult to hold down a job. Raising a child with autism is already expensive, and this loss of income is not possible for many families. It is also important for parents to know what their state requirements are for homeschooled children, and to have a plan to meet them.
Many families have reported success with their homeschooling program, in spite of the disadvantages. Here are some tips to help:
- Research your state’s requirements. Check the website for your state’s department of education to find out exactly what the requirements are for homeschooling in your state.
- Create a plan. Figure out exactly what your educational goals are. Break them down into smaller steps, and create benchmarks as you would on an IEP.
- Set up a daily routine. Children with autism respond to routines. It is not necessary to have school from 9 am until 3 pm, like a typical school day, but it is important that you set aside regular time periods to work on specific subjects, and that you adhere to this schedule as closely as possible.
- Integrate your child’s interests into the curriculum. If your child loves Thomas the Tank Engine, use Thomas in your math or science program.
- Don’t expect perfection. Expect homeschooling to be a learning process for you, as well as for your child. It will take some time to figure out what works and what doesn’t. Be patient, keep going, and have faith. Eventually it will all work out.
Educating a child with autism can be challenging, but it has many rewards. Our children may not learn using traditional methods of teaching, but they are intelligent, and they are capable of great things. Whatever route you choose, know that your child is learning and growing, and what challenges us makes us stronger in the end.
You May Also Like: How To Raise A Happy, Successful Child With Aspergers
Websites – Education
U.S. Department of Education: ed.gov/parents/needs/speced/iepguide/index.html
Special Education Advocacy: www.specialeducationadvocacy.org
Websites – Homeschooling
Homeschool Central: www.homeschoolcentral.com/hsorg.htm
Homeschool Life Situations: www.homeschool-life-situations.com/homeschooling-autism.html
Time 4 Learning: www.time4learning.com/autism_education.shtml
Books – Education
Wrightslaw: All About IEPs by Peter W. D. Wright and Pamela Darr Wright and Sandra Webb O’Connor (Jan 1, 2010)
The IEP from A to Z: How to Create Meaningful and Measurable Goals and Objectives (Jossey-Bass Teacher) by Diane Twachtman-Cullen and Jennifer Twachtman-Bassett (Apr 26, 2011)
Better IEPs How to Develop Legally Correct and Educationally Useful Programs by Barbara D. Bateman, Mary Anne Linden, Joan Donovan and Tom Kinney (2006)
The Complete Guide to Special Education: Expert Advice on Evaluations, IEPs, and Helping Kids Succeed (Second Edition) by Linda Wilmshurst and Alan W. Brue (Sep 14, 2010)
Books – Homeschooling
Homeschooling the Child with Autism: Answers to the Top Questions Parents and Professionals Ask (Jossey-Bass Teacher) by Patricia Schetter, Kandis Lighthall and Jeanette McAfee (Mar 30, 2009)
Home Educating Our Autistic Spectrum Children: Past, Present and Futures by Terri Dowty (Nov 13, 2008)
Homeschooling Child With Asper by Lise Pyles (Feb 15, 2004)
Autism and Flexischooling: A Shared Classroom and Homeschooling Approach by Clare Lawrence and Luke, Dr. Beardon (Jul 15, 2012)