April. Autism Awareness Month...30 days of focus on autism spectrum disorders. A good thing for those who need to learn more about it. Yet for families living it every day, there's another need. Planning.
To effectively advocate for your child in school, understanding the diagnosis is important. Yet what's essential is understanding your child's individual needs.
Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) is not one thing, but encompasses many things and each child is unique. While there are definitely similarities in terms of areas of need, the diagnosis does not automatically correlate to their placement in school.
Many children/teens with an autism spectrum disorder are fully included or spend part of their day in mainstream classes. Their needs will continue to change as new skills are acquired, as they move from childhood to the teenage years, and as environments, expectations, and demands change. And this means monitoring their growth and progress and making changes to their educational program as needed.
The focus always needs to be on today, yet planning for tomorrow and the many transition points, both small and large, means ensuring that school is building a strong foundation and that you're keeping a keen and careful eye on what's coming next. Remember...keep the bar high.
If you think college isn't a possibility, think again. More and more colleges and universities are creating programs to support students with autism spectrum disorders and many have added supports as well. And while it may seem like a long way off, the transition requires carefully planning and preparation...starting now.
If higher education, whether community college or a four-year university, may be the goal, their transition plan must address it. And this means IEP goals that go far beyond: "Megan will research post-secondary education options" or "Tim will visit two colleges". Preparation for college means direct instruction of skills including self-advocacy and executive function skills (e.g. organization, time management), not only in their transition plan, but in measurable IEP goals as well.
If colleges are already being explored, plan to evaluate each school's disability services department. Some families disclose their child's disability before acceptance, while others wait until acceptance and after the college decision has been made. No matter the path, you need to access all available information to determine the right "fit" for your child.
The need for parents to think about and plan for the transition from school to employment and to evaluate a child's interests and abilities must begin early - i.e. middle school.
Many companies, such as EY & Microsoft, are recruiting employees with ASD, and smaller businesses are specifically hiring young adults with these needs and strengths. School must be teaching the skills needed for independence, and employment is one of the key areas.
Parents already know that one day, perhaps sooner than expected, school will end and so will the services and supports received. Whether college is the next step or securing a job, both areas have different rules and expectations, requiring skills that go beyond getting a B on a spelling test or doing well on a science project.
Preparation is key. And we all have a part to play -- families, schools, clinicians, agencies, colleges, employers, and more.
Children with autism spectrum disorders become adults. They become part of the fabric of our world with astonishing strengths and gifts to share. And they also become adults with needs that continue to require support.
April may be Autism Awareness Month, but we'll really be integrating those with autism spectrum disorders into every aspect of life when the awareness is ongoing. That's when we'll know that it no longer requires 30 days of focus and attention.