Your child with autism’s educational journey will require a lot of planning and care to ensure they receive all of the support they need to succeed at school. Their educational journey is unique to their abilities and needs within their school setting. It is important to consider all options for your child as the begin their schooling and until they reach their high school graduation. Each aspect of your child’s educational programming begins with a living and breathing document known as an IEP. An Individualized Educational Plan (or IEP) is a legal written document between parents (or legal guardians) and a school that describes and explains the programming, educational support and goals for a child with special needs. Let’s spend some time consider four important aspects of an IEP for your child with autism.
1. An IEP is a living and breathing document.
We (here at Embrace Autism) refer to an IEP as a living and breathing document, because it changes and evolves with the child as their educational journey progresses. IEP’s are annually revised and can have addendums added throughout the year to accommodate your child’s’ needs. Additionally, the entire team, general education and special education teacher, speech therapist and other support personnel, at your child’s school will meet with you annually to discuss progress and new goals for your child. The IEP not only guides your child’s educational journey, but it is the document that is used to measure their progress and determine how they are learning content within the general education classroom. This document provides you with measurable goals and accountability from the school to ensure your child receives the most appropriate instruction possible to receive a quality education. It is important to consider all items in this document seriously and carefully consider all goals before agreeing to the IEP for a given year of schooling for your child.
2. Your child’s school must provide your child with the least restrictive learning environment.
One aspect of your child’s IEP is that your school should provide your child with the least restrictive environment for schooling. Inclusion, mainstreaming and least restrictive learning environments (LRE) are all terms that provide your child with the opportunity to learn with peers that typically developed peers, or a general education classroom. Providing your child with an inclusive environment for learning is only required by the school to the extent that it is beneficial to your child. Remember, as a parent, your opinion on the benefits for inclusion is where your advocacy for your child comes into play. Some educational providers may push to convince you that the LRE for your child is something that you do not envision because they may not have or want to use the resources necessary to mainstream your child in an inclusive classroom. However, it is important that your IEP places your child in an inclusive classroom (if they are ready for it) or contains a plan towards mainstreaming your child in an inclusive classroom. Inclusive education provides your child with autism with the best opportunity to learn and succeed by modeling provided through typically-developed peers.
3. You are in control of your child’s educational journey.
As a parent, you are in control of your child’s educational journey and should remind school personnel that you are there to advocate for your child. It is important to advocate for your child throughout the IEP process. Advocacy during the school year is, also, important to ensure your child meets their IEP goals and to keep the school accountable to your child’s needs. You are the expert about your child. As you sit through various therapy sessions, meetings and advocate for your child, do not forget that you know the most about your child and their needs. Let your IEP team know that you respect their input, but you will continue to push for their schooling needs. While you need to trust in the school team in place for your child, do not doubt your intuition as you work through IEP goals and schooling needs for your child.