Autism and IEPs: When Knowledge is Power

It’s that time of year again when parents will meet with their school districts
and write their Individualized Education Programs or IEPs. These are mandated by the
Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) and outline the individual
educational needs for each child with special needs. My close friend, who has her Masters
in Education once told me, “if every parent knew their IDEA laws, the school systems would go broke.”

Parents and caregivers of a child with an autism spectrum disorder (ASD) need to
be educated as an advocate in many areas of their child’s life. Picking up, reading and understanding the IDEA fundamentals from a recent copy
of “Wrightslaw: Special Education Law,” will give invaluable insight for
parents. There’s no excuse for being unprepared for these meetings, which will
ultimately play a large role in determining a child’s functionality and success.

I recently read about a mother whose argument with her school district was
related to her son’s handwriting. Her struggles to have her child
use assistive technology had merit.

A recent Japanese study involving middle and high school aged children showed that
children with autism, along with Tourette’s Syndrome, ADD and other co-morbid
diagnoses, had substantially lower grades when forced to handwrite their assignments. The implementation of computer keyboards and typing devices raised their grades from C and D
averages to A’s and B’s.

Furthermore, studies showed that by allowing these students to complete homework assignments at school and
not at home, grades also increased as a result.

Parents and caregivers who come prepared to IEP meetings are a far stronger force than most realize. By law,
they can never be excluded from these important decision-making meetings.
Parents have the right to be heard and research before meetings take place will prove to be invaluable.

Knowing when a transfer to another school or district is allowed is extremely important. Each state has its own interpretations of how and when they are willing to transfer or contract out for appropriate services. Knowing these rules will keep
parents from spinning their wheels and show school administrative teams that they
are well-informed and know their child’s educational rights.

My oldest son has a 504 plan, which is not as powerful as an IEP, but certainly provides for
appropriate accommodations. His 504 plan includes having no homework, the use of a keyboard instead of handwriting, allowing for quiet
time and allowing for frequent healthy snacks. These stipulations can all be a mandatory part of
a child’s program, but will rarely be offered. I even learned to bring in a supportive advocate at times when I knew it would be a

If the system does not provide, they must accommodate. Test scores and a specific diagnosis are the baselines for constructing a plan that will be therapeutic, stimulating and educational for
a child’s special needs. The IEPs and 504 plans also offer greater protection than those of typical students.

Leverage lies within the laws and a child with special needs is entitled to as much as double and triple the tax monies as the funding for a typical child.
This should put parents in a position of empowerment, not groveling. 

I moved all the way across the country to New York where my son’s IEP would finally be written to accommodate his special needs.
He was then able to take advantage of New York’s five-day-a-week speech
program with a speech therapist who was fully acquainted with current autism research and
therapies, along with every other imaginable accommodating resource. My son went from mumbling
and speechless to fully conversational in two-months. 

He also began playing board games, making eye contact, singing, dancing and most of all, was happy — all within only two months. I was completely in awe of the provisions given to my son
by the state of New York. I was also in disgust of the state where I came from. 

If I had to pay out of pocket in my former state for the services he was receiving in the curricular year, it would
have cost me in excess of a half-a-million dollars. Very few families have this
type of money, which is why so many get deprived of services in non-friendly
states. By the time my son has finished his two years of Early Intervention before starting Kindergarten in NYS, he will have received well over a million dollars worth of therapy. I did not have to beg or
borrow, these services were given to my son on a silver platter.

Had we not moved, my son would not have received appropriate therapy and would have cost taxpayers anywhere between 3.7 and 77 million dollars in his lifetime, depending on the eventual long-term services he would have required such as assisted living, medical, educational, personal and
other therapeutic needs.

If I wasn’t educated about the laws, I wouldn’t have known what he could and should be
getting. It’s despicable and injurious that so many states allow for this. A fellow parent of a child with ASD in the state where I lived has
successfully sued the school systems at least four times. Despite this fact, the schools
have not changed and are still non-accommodating.

Clearly, knowledge and leaving the door open to move are essential. Keep in
mind, because of the imbalance of services across the country, the state a child
lives in will determine the rest of his or her life. In many cases, even just a move to another county will make the difference. In other cases, like mine, moving over 3,000 miles away did the trick. If you don’t know what your child needs and what you can and cannot ask for, in most cases they won’t tell you either. Therefore, you need to be
prepared and educated.

Many head-start programs are beginning to accommodate the early intervention needs of a child with ASD. Each program is unique, and each teaches a child with ASD in different ways.

Be prepared. A child’s autism diagnosis changes lives forever and getting accommodating therapies from school systems will typically ensure that
a child realizes his or her high functioning potential, which will prevent them
from falling between the cracks.

Knowledge of the IEP process and IDEA laws will enable parents and caregivers to be an excellent advocate and resource for
their child’s growth, future, functionality and ultimate success.