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"... the most important considerations in devising educational programs for children with autistic spectrum disorders have to do with recognition of the autism spectrum as a whole, with the concomitant implications for social, communicative, and behavioral development and learning, and with the understanding of the strengths and weaknesses of the individual child across areas of development."
—Educating Children with Autism2001

The Individual Education Program (IEP)

The IEP is the document that is at the heart of the delivery of special education services. It contains the details regarding a student’s educational goals and how those goals are to be measured as well as the accommodations and services that will be provided or made available to ensure that the student is receiving a Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE) as mandated by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), a federal law which was first enacted in the mid 1970s, with the latest revision enacted in 2004 and in force as of July 2005.

There are many steps parents or guardians can take to assure that their child is receiving the Free Appropriate Public Education promised by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. The most crucial step is that parents become knowledgeable about their child’s disability, paying particular attention to their own child’s strengths and weaknesses. Inasmuch as a specific disability can “look” different in every child and that it is not unusual for a child to have more than one disability, having this insight and expertise will help others who work with your child better grasp their needs and abilities and will lead to a more fruitful discussion about how best to educate your child.

If your child already has an IEP you should make sure that you understand how the goals stated are to be met, that the accommodations and services listed are being received and that you know who to contact if the IEP is not being followed.

Whether you are new to the IEP process or a parent with many years of experience, always keep in mind that as a parent you are a FULL member of your child’s IEP team. IDEA lists the people who should be IEP team members. For a listing of the composition of the IEP Team in Maryland, download the Maryland Disability Law Center's Special Education Rights Handbook.

A comprehensive source of information about the IDEA and related Maryland laws can be found in the Maryland Disability Law Center's Special Education Rights Handbook, written for parents.

Another source for comprehensive information about IDEA is Wright's Law, which has both general and state specific information.

One important change that was made in the reauthorization of the IDEA in 2004 was the broadening of the language in the “Purposes” section, to include “further education” as a stated purpose of the IDEA. This is of particular importance for diploma-bound students on the autism spectrum, as it reinforces the expectation that students with disabilities will successfully pursue post-secondary education.

“The purposes of this title are to ensure that all children with disabilities have available to them a free appropriate public education that emphasizes special education and related services designed to meet their unique needs and prepare them for further education, employment and independent living.” [Section 1400(d)(1)(A)]

Starting the IEP Process

If you suspect that your child has a disability that is adversely impacting his educational performance, you may make a written request that the school conduct an evaluation. A teacher or other school personnel may also make such a request. Starting on page 6 the MDLC’s handbook details the timelines and consent requirements for conducting evaluations (60 – 90 days after written request received for an initial evaluation), notice requirements for IEP meetings (generally parents must be given ten days notice), and ways to appeal decisions. Download a copy of the Maryland Disability Law Center's Special Education Rights Handbook.

The Parent's Role

If your child already has an IEP, you need to make sure that it is being properly implemented. If the school proposes changes to the IEP, be aware that they must follow certain procedures. (See page 5, “prior written notice” of the Maryland Disability Law Center's Special Education Rights Handbook.

Another way to help parents feel more at ease during an IEP team meeting is to have the meeting facilitated by a neutral party. Community Mediation Maryland has trained facilitators who are available free of charge. Either the parents or the school can request a facilitator, but a facilitator may only be used if both the parents and the school agree to the use of a facilitator.

Assessing Needs
In order to provide a free appropriate public education, it is necessary to assess a student's current level of functioning in academic performance, communication skills, social skills, motor skills, and emotional and/or behavioral needs.

Assessments may include:
• Psycho-educational testing
• Speech-Language testing
• Parental Questionnaires
• Teacher Questionnaires
• Observations by a variety of experts
• Occupational Therapy testing
• Physical Therapy testing
• Functional Behavioral Assessment
• Social Skill
• Standardized classroom tests

Assessments may be done by the school or the parents may choose to have a private practitioner perform them. There are certain circumstances where the school district may pay for private assessments.

Improving the educational experiences and outcomes of students on the autism spectrum in grades K-12

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