The autistic child is at a tremendous disadvantage if he happens to live in a school district that cannot facilitate him. Parents are at the mercy of outside direction and resources. One such child was recently presented to me. The parents were dreading the beginning of another school year. He would now be in the third grade.
I began directing the family by pointing out a three-pronged approach. These three areas will include his medical needs, his educational and future occupational needs, and the means offered to him for opportunities of socialization.
First, one needs to consider whether your child has behaviors that may be keeping him from participating in an optimal educational setting. Is he obsessive about order, routine and regularity? Is the obsession rigid to the point that classroom flexibility in subject or environment change would be intolerable for him? Does he have other maladaptive behaviors, such as tantrums, head banging, etc? Speak to your child’s pediatrician. Find out if it would be beneficial for a medication adjunct, prescribed by either your child’s pediatrician or through a referral to a pediatric psychiatrist. Additionally, your child may have a seizure disorder that needs to be well controlled, allowing learning opportunities to be maximized. Make sure his hearing and vision are checked.
Secondly, does the child’s educational needs require that he be placed in a special educational setting? Perhaps not. This child may flourish in a regular classroom, where he can have the experience of interacting with others who do not have autism. This is, of course, the goal for all of our children with autism—that they be placed in the least restrictive classroom environment.
Other educational settings can include speech handicapped classrooms, learning handicapped classrooms, resource specialist assistance in the areas of reading and math, special day classes, etc. Your child’s district should be able to help place him into an appropriate classroom. If they do not have available classes in your district, they may be able to pay for him to receive his services in another district. Obtain the services of a parent advocate or find a parent who has experience in your particular district. They can assist you in determining the best educational placement for your child.
Thirdly, your autistic son needs opportunities for appropriate socialization. Regular classrooms, if your child is ready for that level of interaction, is an excellent venue. That is, of course, provided the teacher is able to help him acquire socially appropriate skills at a pace that is comfortable for your son. Other opportunities for socialization may include sheltered Boy Scout groups, swimming, etc. Your child will need to learn how to model appropriate social interactions. These are only a few examples of socialization opportunities.
The Autism Society of American is an excellent resource for parents and educators of autistic children. Resources can be found in books, magazines, and online. Parent support groups are another good resource for you. Attending to your son’s educational and social needs early on will go far to help your autistic child function as optimally as possible.