Unique Needs & Abilities
Just as there are various treatment approaches, there are multiple educational programs that provide stimulating learning environments. The Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act (IDEIA) is a federal mandate that guarantees students with disabilities a free, appropriate public education. The education plan for a student with disabilities can include “related services” that may encompass many of the treatments discussed in the treatments section.
The common thread in autism is the presence of a developmental disability; more specifically, a disorder of communication that manifests itself differently in each person. But whatever the level of impairment, the educational program for an individual with autism should be based on the unique needs of the student. If this is the first attempt by the parents and school system to develop an appropriate curriculum, conducting a comprehensive needs assessment is a good place to start. This evaluation will become the blueprint for your child’s educational plan.
Educational planning for students with autism often addresses a wide range of skill development, including academics, communication and language skills, social skills, self-help skills, behavioral issues, and leisure skills. It’s important to consult with professionals trained specifically in autism to help your child benefit from his/her school program. But keep in mind, even the most well-intentioned advice may generate inappropriate curriculum models and impair the child’s ability to develop to his/her fullest potential. That’s why it’s important to obtain a wide range of opinions and keep a close eye on your child’s progress or lack thereof.
Most professionals agree that individuals with autism respond well to highly structured, specialized education programs designed to meet the individual’s needs. Based on the major characteristics associated with autism, there are areas that are important to look at when creating a plan: social skill development, communication, behavior, and sensory integration. Programs sometimes include several treatment components coordinated to assist a person with autism. For example, one individual’s program may consist of speech therapy, social skill development and the use of medication, all within a structured behavior program. Another child’s may include social skill development, sensory integration and dietary changes. No one program or diet is perfect for every person with autism. It’s important to try several approaches and find the ones that work best on an individual basis.
With all of that said, parents and professionals need to work together. Teachers should have some understanding of the child’s behavior and communication skills at home, and parents should let teachers know about their expectations as well as which techniques work at home. Open communication between school staff and parents can lead to better evaluation of a student’s progress. Community goals like purchasing meals and grocery shopping should be reinforced through work at school, just as parents’ goals for their child outside of school, such as the development of leisure activities, should be reinforced. Cooperation between parents and professionals can lead to increased success for the individual with autism.
Academic goals need to be tailored to the individual’s intellectual ability and functioning level. Some children may need help understanding social situations and developing appropriate responses. Others may exhibit aggressive or self-injurious behavior, and need assistance managing their behaviors. No one program will meet the needs of all individuals with the disability, so it is important to find the program or programs that best fit your child’s needs. Just like treatment approaches, educational programs should be tailored to your child’s individual needs, flexible and re-evaluated on a regular basis.