Understanding Autism and Special Education: What is an IEP and What to Expect
If you have a preschool-aged child with a diagnosis of autism, autism spectrum disorder (ASD), speech issues, or any other developmental challenges, they may be eligible for specialized preschool services through your local school district. In California, and likely in many other states, these services are available, and it's essential for parents to explore the options for autism early intervention and special education.
Surprisingly, many parents are unaware that their child with autism can receive FREE specialized preschool services. Instead, they might be paying for daycare or traditional preschool when their child is entitled to so much more from the school district. It's crucial for parents to be informed and proactive in seeking the support their child with autism needs.
School districts strive to provide assistance to children on the autism spectrum, but they are often underfunded and overwhelmed. Advocating for your child with autism's needs is vital to ensure they receive all the necessary support for success in special education. If your child with autism is not yet in school or is experiencing delays or issues at school, you have the right to request an assessment from the school district to determine eligibility for an Individualized Education Plan (IEP).
The assessment consent form will outline the different types of assessments they will conduct for your child with autism. While you have the right to request additional assessments for autism diagnosis, you may need to advocate for them. Once the assessments for autism spectrum disorder are agreed upon and completed, the school district has 60 days to schedule an IEP meeting to review the results and develop the Individualized Education Plan.
At the IEP meeting, various professionals will be present to discuss your child's needs, such as school administrators, psychologists, special education teachers, speech and language pathologists, occupational therapists, adaptive physical education teachers, and behavior analysts. Parents can also bring an advocate or special education lawyer to ensure the best support for their child with autism in the IEP process.
While having a lawyer present might escalate tensions, it's advisable to start the special education process without one and focus on establishing a collaborative relationship with the school district. An experienced advocate can be invaluable during the overwhelming and complex IEP process for children with autism. They can ask the right questions and ensure all necessary services are considered, promoting a cohesive and supportive environment for the child with autism's development.
For non-English-speaking parents of children with autism, it's important to request a translator to fully understand all discussions related to the IEP and special education services.
Being well-informed and actively engaged in the IEP process is essential for securing the best possible outcomes for your autistic child's education and development. Remember that your child with autism has the right to receive the support they need to thrive in the school setting and beyond, with the help of special education and an Individualized Education Plan tailored to their unique needs.