Autism in the Classroom
WebMD talks to parents, therapists, and educators for advice on how to help children with autism thrive in the classroom.
Autism in the classroom: The IEP meeting
Public schools are legally bound to use an IEP to guide the education of a child with an ASD. IEP stands for individualized education plan. It outlines therapies and educational programs that will be provided to help ensure your child's educational success. Therapies might include speech therapy, occupational therapy, physical therapy, and behavioral therapy. The IEP might also define the time your child will spend with a special education teacher.
During the meeting, educators make decisions about what services your child will receive or be offered during the school year. IEP meetings can be held at any time throughout the school year.
Here are tips from parents and educators for having a successful IEP meeting:
- Be an advocate, not an agitator. It doesn’t work to go in demanding “We want this, we want that.” What works is being prepared to discuss goals your child can attain.
Be ready to talk about supportable, age-appropriate goals for your child. For instance, one goal might be for your child to initiate a conversation with a peer several times a week.
- Invite outside team members to participate. Bringing in an expert -- for instance, a former teacher or therapist -- who really knows your child can enhance the team’s efforts to design strategies and brainstorm goals.
- Show gratitude. Thank everyone who attends your IEP meeting. Send them a handwritten note or an email. A child with an ASD creates more work for teachers. So it’s good to show your appreciation.
Autism in the classroom: Changing schools
Platzman advises parents to not be shy about changing schools if things aren’t working out the way they should.
One “litmus test” she uses for knowing it’s time to change is when a child is continually punished for something he or she has no control over.
Platzman says that something like “stimming” may be neurologically based. Stimming refers self-stimulating behaviors when a child with autism makes repetitive motions. Stimming may be prompted by anxiety, boredom, or being lost in school.
Children with autism also often have sensory issues. For instance, your child might be either under-sensitive or extremely sensitive to light or touch. Or your child may crave deep pressure or be calmed by chewing things. If a child can’t say, “Hey I’m lost,” in class, he might compensate by doing something like chewing pencils.
Most general education teachers are not trained to notice these types of behaviors. As a result, kids with an ASD often get punished for “bad behavior.”
Autism in the classroom: Schools for learning differences
Some parents feel that traditional schools don’t have the resources to train teachers. Or they feel they don’t have the resources to keep up with the challenges and demands of a child with autism in the classroom. Those concerns have prompted some parents to start their own schools.