If your child is 3 years old or older, call your Special Education Department in your local public school system. These phone numbers are available in the blue pages section of your phone book under County Government or online here.
Education is the most effective treatment for children with autism. However, autism presents educators with some unique challenges. Children with autism have unusual intellectual and academic profiles that vary. No two children are alike. Therefore, no one program exists that will meet the needs of every individual with autism. Additionally, children with autism learn very differently than typical children or children with other types of developmental disabilities. To meet the needs of the individual child, it is critical to examine the child’s strengths, weaknesses and unique needs when determining an appropriate educational placement and developing an Individualized Educational Plan (IEP). The following are key components of a comprehensive, individualized program for a child with autism:
- Most importantly, an effective, comprehensive program should reflect an understanding and awareness of the challenges presented by autism.
- Parent-professional communication and collaboration are key components for making decisions and dealing with issues that may arise.
- On-going training and education in autism are important for both parents and professionals who work with individuals with autism. Professionals who are trained in specific methodology and techniques for autism will be most effective in implementing appropriate interventions. They will also be effective in modifying curriculum based upon the characteristics of autism and the individual child.
- Inclusion with typically developing peers is important for a child with autism. Peers are the best models for language and social/play skills. However, the child will not learn by simply being in the environment. It is also necessary to facilitate activities that will address specific skills.
- Formal assessment or re-evaluation of a child with autism is best done by a multidisciplinary team of professionals who have experience in the area of autism.
- A comprehensive IEP should be based on the child’s strengths and weaknesses. Goals for a child with autism usually include the areas of communication, social behavior, challenging behavior, and academic and functional skills. Transition goals must be addressed when the child reaches 14 years of age. Modifications of instruction that the child needs must be included. The IEP also must address related services, for example, occupational therapy to address fine motor or sensory needs, speech therapy, physical therapy or transportation to name a few.
- Teaching skills in the environment in which they would naturally occur is most effective. Additionally, teaching skills in their natural sequence with natural consequences will assist generalization of the skills to new environments.
- No one methodology is effective for all children with autism. Generally, it is best to integrate approaches according to a child’s needs and responses.
- Careful planning from year to year will help the child adapt to change.