Working with Schools
Navigating the school system as an advocate for your child with special needs can be difficult and confusing. You want to do everything you can to understand your rights and responsibilities and effectively participate in the proceedings. Here are some tools to help guide you through the process. Please check back as we continue to add more information!
Guide to IEP Meetings: The Role of the Parent
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Under I.D.E.A (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act), children of all abilities have the right to be educated alongside their typically developing peers. This is also known as the Least Restrictive Environment (LRE).
To help you create the best and most effective learning environment for each child in your classroom, we have the following tips...
Children on the spectrum may learn differently, but they are very much capable. You will likely need to change your approach(es) in terms of how you work with children on the spectrum, this does not mean you need to lower your expectations!
Communication development is divided into two parts: Expressive language and Receptive language
To improve on expressive language:
- Build vocabulary with a nonverbal child by having him/her request items or activities via pictures. You can use pictures of their favorite food items and ask that they select which one they prefer.
- If possible, consult with a speech therapist (either at the school or the therapist the child sees outside of school) for tips on the picture communication systems
To improve on receptive language:
- Provide the child with pictures during classroom activities such as snack time, bathroom breaks, the bus, etc.
- Create a schedule to show the child what is coming up throughout the day. For example: first is circle time, second is quiz time, third is bathroom break, and so forth.
- Provide additional visual cues (pointing, gestures) to help the child understand what you are requesting throughout the day.
- Prior to any verbal direction, prompt the child to give proper eye contact.
Around the age of 2-3, a child will engage in playing alongside others; however, children with autism often lack the ability to initiate and sustain interactions with their peers, and may appear to be "disconnected" from those around him.
To improve social-emotional development:
- Encourage the child to initiate play schemes with peers. You can start with nonverbal interactions such as taking-turns.
- Provide a peer model (classroom buddy) who could serve as a model for social behavior.
- Most importantly, supply many opportunities for social play with peers throughout the day. Remember, play can be a part of learning!
These are your self-help skills. Many children with autism lack these skills, primarily because children with autism lack the sequencing skills to accomplish such tasks.
To improve adaptive behavior development:
- Have many demonstrations and models of self-care tasks such as hand-washing, toileting, and cleaning up spills.
- Provide pictures to help sequence the steps. Social stories are a great tool for self-help skills! Many can be found online or you can create one specifically for the child using their picture. Often times, a parent may have these made and you could simply request a copy to use for your classroom.
- Ensure there are opportunities to practice self-help skills throughout the day
Sensory processing is the way our bodies receive and interpret information through our senses. When a child has a problem in this area, there is difficulty regulating responses to information coming through their senses.
To improve the interpretation of sensory information:
- Provide opportunities to engage in sensory input activities such as climbing, running, jumping, singing, lifting boxes, etc.
- Supply the child with a "fidget" toy such as a Koosh ball, a straw, or a rubber ball to help with focus during structured tasks.
Chances are a child with autism is receiving learning outside of the classroom in the form of occupational, speech, and/or behavior therapy. It can be beneficial to form a partnership between these people, along with the parents, as true progress can only be made when strategies are being implemented across all environment.
Resources: www.autism-society.org; www.autismspot.com; Educating preschoolers with autism: Tips for child care providers who care for autistic children. (Snuggs, C. 2009); Children with Autism: Same Needs, Different Approach (Craig Gibson).
Bus Drivers/Transportation Services
There is a chance that a child with autism will use the bus to get to and/or from their school. For these children certain accommodations could be made to make the circumstances easier for all involved, such as a specific route, a smaller bus, the assistance of an aide, and aides for sensory and behavioral needs.
For those who are a part of the transportation services, here are some things to consider:
- Gaining knowledge on autism specifics (behavior symptoms, communication issues) can help avoid and/or manage upsetting situations that may arise.
- Be aware that there are some sensory issues and fears that might upset a student with autism. If a child feels more comfortable wearing headphones or earplugs, then allow them to do so. Furthermore, if a child had a "fidget" toy do not take it from them as this could be vital for their sensory needs.
- Speak to parents, teachers, and/or therapists about the best way(s) to communicate with a student who may have communication challenges; understand that you may need to wait longer for a response, use pictures, or receive requests from the student via a technology device.
- Sticking to a routine is key for children with autism. Anxiety can arise if there is a change in drivers, routes, or seat changes.
- Provide a visual schedule to help establish rules and routines. The steps could proceed as follows: Wait at the Bus Stop; Get on the Bus; Sit Down; Buckle my Seatbelt; Ride Quietly to School/Home; Get off the Bus.
- Ensure you are comfortable with all protocols regarding medical emergencies.
- Children with autism are at a high risk for bullying behaviors due to their social vulnerability. Talk to the administration to be sure there are proper protocols and procedures in place for these instances.
- Model appropriate behavior and reinforce good behaviors. For example: "I love the way you walked straight to your seat and buckled your seatbelt. Thank you!"
Resources: Bus Drivers and Transportation Supervisors from www.autismspeaks.org