“There is no one-size-fits-all autism program” is a phrase you will hear us repeat. Not only because every person with autism is unique, but also because your family’s priorities and what you value are also unique.
As you plan for your loved one’s treatment, consider what is most important to you. For some, it’s encouraging their child’s academic potential. For others, it’s the ability to share experiences as a family. Perhaps the goal for your child this year will be to ride a bike or enjoy a movie together in a movie theatre.
Really, there is no right or wrong answer. Consider your child’s strengths and interests and the ways you can support them moving forward. Finding a balance between the current focus and what’s coming 3-5 years down the road can be extremely helpful in setting goals. Your service providers should support these goals and help you design the correct programs to get you there.
Selecting which therapy or combination of therapies your child needs now is a critical decision, since research shows that it plays a significant a role in development.
ABA Therapy is considered the gold standard for autism treatment. Extensive research has shown that it works and has established ABA as the most empirically validated approach to treating autism. Early intervention is ideal, as it capitalizes on the brain’s ability to map new pathways and build circuits that are functional. Regardless of the stage of development, ABA can support your child’s behavior as well as social and communication goals.
We also strongly believe in the value of Occupational Therapy and Speech Therapy as complementary therapies, which is why all three are offered at AST.
A good service provider will make therapy recommendations based on your child’s needs. Research your options and talk to trusted professionals so you can select what you think is right.
Whatever your choice, you will find helpful advice for selecting professionals to work within our Build Your Team (link) section.
Your pediatrician or general practice physician will be an important part of your treatment plan. Working with a doctor who is knowledgeable about autism can be very helpful. While no medication exists to treat the primary symptoms of autism, you will want to discuss any coexisting conditions your child may have and the best plan for treatment. If your doctor is unfamiliar with issues that may coexist with autism, seek out a developmental specialist or neurologist who specializes in the treatment of children with autism.
(Link to Medical Conditions Associated with Autism)
Some children with autism do well in special education programs while others participate in mainstream education independently or with the support of a one-to-one aide. It is important to consider the best match for your child’s needs and abilities.
An IEP is developed for every child eligible for special education. This plan contains a statement of a child’s present level of functioning in terms of performance, educational needs, goals, levels of service, and measurable outcomes. After a formal assessment, an IEP meeting is held if a child demonstrates a lack of progress or if a parent or teacher requests a meeting to develop/review/revise a child’s current IEP.
Here is how we suggest you prepare for this important planning session:
WRITE THE SCHOOL DISTRICT. Write a letter to the school district to request all assessments, progress reports, and proposed goals in advance of the meeting.
PREPARE SUPPLEMENTAL MATERIALS. Gather reports or other documentation for the school district to consider at the IEP meeting and provide them to the district one week in advance. Ask members of your “team” for their opinion of your child’s progress/needs. Questions to consider: Where is your child currently in terms of progress and goals? What current goals would you like your child to continue to work on? Where do you want your child to be one year from now?
UNDERSTAND BASIC TERMS. Some common IEP terms and acronyms include:
IDEA: Individuals with Disabilities Education Act 2004
IEE: Independent Educational Evaluation
BIP: Behavior Intervention Plan
PBS: Positive Behavior Supports
FBA: Functional Behavioral Assessment
LRE: Least Restrictive Environment
FAPE: Free Appropriate Public Education
PLAAFP: Present Level of Academic Achievement and Functional Performance (also known as PLOP), a summary of strengths and needs.
OBJECTIVES: Skills a child needs to develop/achieve
BENCHMARKS: The mastery level a child is expected to meet
ESY: Extended School Year
CBM: Curriculum-Based Measurement
RTI: Response to Intervention
DECIDE WHO TO BRING: Determine if there is another person, such as a current service provider, who could be helpful at the IEP meeting. You may consider contacting a lawyer or advocate if you need assistance or support beyond the IEP team. Parents may bring a friend, a lawyer, an advocate, or any other professional to the IEP meeting. It is always advisable to bring someone with you to provide support and to help take notes as there is a lot of information to absorb during the meeting.
DOCUMENT: Take notes during the meeting, noting the date, time, who said what, and what was said.
CAREFULLY REVIEW THE IEP. Make sure to read the complete IEP and ensure that all of your questions about it have been asked and answered. Does the report about your child’s current level of functioning accurately reflect your child?
EVALUATE GOALS: Determine if guidelines are accurate, objective, and meaningful; if areas of need are addressed; and if goals are objective, measurable, and appropriate. How is progress going to be measured? Are the methods to monitor progress toward your child’s annual goals clearly stated?
DETERMINE POTENTIAL PLACEMENTS: The team will determine which learning environment will allow the IEP to be best implemented. Does the IEP list how much time your child will spend in each setting? Observe initial sessions to ensure that the placement is a good fit for your child.
SPECIAL SERVICES: Does the IEP list who will be providing the special services for your child, and how many minutes/ hours per week are recommended?
KNOW YOUR RIGHTS: You will be asked to sign the IEP at the IEP meeting. When you sign the IEP, you are signing that you agree to the contents of the IEP document. You should take the time to review the IEP carefully to make sure you agree with everything in it as this will determine your child’s services for the year, as well as his classroom placement and goals.
You do not have to sign indicating agreement to the IEP at the meeting. You may ask to take the IEP home to review it, which is recommended so that you have the time to understand everything you are agreeing to. You may be asked to sign indicating that you were present at the IEP. This is different from signing that you agree to the IEP itself.
Having a child with autism initiates a whirlwind of research, therapy, and appointments. Maintaining balance is a challenge—it is easy for autism to define the entire family’s life. Attention should be paid to therapy as consistency is the key to progress and better outcomes, but we encourage you to include time for play and simply being together. Private time with your spouse or partner and other children you may have is critically important. Get out occasionally and socialize with your friends. Your team members can help you design ways to make this happen. It won’t always be easy, but setting goals for a balanced family life will benefit everyone.