Understanding the Law regarding Autism is tedious. We will start with how the laws work in states, schools, and communities. While the Federal Government mandates laws which must be followed, individual states determine how, when, where, and why they will or will not comply.
According to Autism & Insurance Coverage: State Laws, 8/8/2018, retrieved from the follow website –
http://www.ncsl.org/research/health/autism-and-insurance-coverage-state-laws.aspx there are 46 states and the District of Columbia which have laws that require insurance coverage of autism. Other states may have limited coverage under Mental Health or other laws. Some 12 states have waivers which make Medicaid funds available to assist individuals with autism, such as from the Easter Seals organization. Restrictions may apply, such as – insurance coverage until the age of 18, or 22 in some states; and only if the individual is enrolled in an approved school.
Bilaver, et al. (2015) tell us that FAPE, Free & Appropriate Public Education was meant to strengthen public school capacity to deliver services to those families and individuals unable to access needed services at home.
But according to this study, services still fall short due to specialists being overworked with heavy caseloads. Highly trained specialists providing intervention services can be licensed speech therapists, occupational therapists, behavior therapists, and those providing social skills training.
In their study, Turnbull, III, et al. (2002) answer questions regarding the federal special education law IDEA, Individuals with Disabilities Education Act renewal in March 1999. The ‘new’ IDEA is outcome-driven. That is that Local Education Agencies, LEA’s, are required to assess and ensure the effectiveness of efforts to educate children with disabilities. Providing seamless provisions and procedures, nondiscriminatory evaluations, linked to the IEP, Individualized Educational Program and LRE, Least Restrictive Environment, and including high school transition to post-secondary activated after high school. Both statute regulations by the U.S. Department of Education; plus the regulations, rules and procedures implemented to achieve goals intended by Congress, carry the force of law.
The IEP Team is required to consider if appropriate strategies, including positive behavioral interventions and supports address that behavior which are both state-of-the-art and nonaversive. In order to qualify for federal funding, the state law must meet the requirements of the federal law and may exceed those federal minimums.
The Section 504 Plan and ADA, Americans with Disabilities Act generally include protection of reasonable accommodations to persons with disabilities to attend a public facility or program. They also provide that a school must have a wheelchair ramp or other reasonable accommodations to allow an individual to enter and exit the school building easily and safely. Students themselves may now be included in all decisions and determinations regarding their education, as appropriate, and included in all ongoing planning, including Transition Planning.
< My Thoughts > Transition Planning –
In many states, schools start children with special needs on a Transition Plan to be implemented in the last years of public schooling. Students can attend school until age 21 years (or, for some... until 22nd birthday). Look into how your state implements these plans. Some start as soon as the child is identified in the system. What that may mean is that the child learns the life skills as well as the academic skills they will need after the public school program ends and their life in the community begins.
Of course as with any plans…there’s good news and bad news.The good news is that students are put on a special track which supports their abilities and talents, but this should be evaluated every few years.The bad news is that if future evaluations don’t occur and the child either progresses or regresses beyond the initial plan, then the outcome may be drastically different.
For example, I have had students who would not have been put in computer classes because of much earlier evaluations. But when they hit middle school, for whatever reason, their brain and hand-eye coordination had improved to the point where learning to keyboard on the computer was very doable. And, a skill which can take them far.
I would offer the computer at the beginning, the middle, and the end of each semester to my students. I didn’t always write it as an instructional goal, but I had a small and very coveted computer lab in my classroom where the opportunity was ever available. I also invited students to dictate their stories and eventually their essays to me while I typed them, so that they could get a feel for how keyboarding could extend their independence and improve their learning skills.
This can be integrated with Letterboard skills and with Assistive Technology which is available on all ability levels, from voice activated to Braille keyboards, and everything in between.
Turnbull, III, et al. (2002), continue. First requirement is that it will be determined whether or not a child qualifies for services under IDEA. Also, does that child qualify for the enumerated disability? Second requirement, does that child need special education because of his or her disability? Note, in some states, the child may have to ‘requalify’ for services after the age of 3, or after being reevaluated under the new DSM- 5, Diagnostic & Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.
Also, schools are prohibited from instating an individual’s removal that constitutes a ‘change of placement’ if it is determined that the child’s behavior is not a manifestation of the child’s disability. The IEP team would be required to reevaluate the child’s IEP and impending FBA, Functional Behavior Assessment or BIP, Behavior Intervention Plan before a ‘change of placement’ is determined.
< My Thoughts > about IEPs & BIPs –
Anytime and every time your child has been given a Behavior Intervention Plan, it should become part or their current IEP. Also, make certain ALL of the child's teachers know that it is in place... and, what their part is in the implementation of that BIP. In other words, the Art Teacher should be following the plan strictly, as well as all other... including the Lunch and Recess personnel and substitute personnel.
Here's an example of what can go terribly wrong for your child...
Building in Circles: The Best of Autism Mom by Elizabeth W. Barnes; eBook 2014 Edition; with < My Thoughts > by Sara Luker
Excerpts from the book – (60% indicates location in the Kindle version of the book, instead of page numbers).
60% "Wait, What?" –
(Sometimes I like to drop by Navigator's school to visit his classroom) First, I dutifully go to the school office and sign in and get a badge so I am an “official” visitor at the school.
…while I was signing in, my son walked into the office, by himself. He was supposed to be in class, what was he doing in the office?
One of the assistants asked him why he was there. He explained that he had been misbehaving in class and the teacher had sent him to the office.
Wait, What? There is specific language in the IEP* that he is NOT to be sent out of the classroom for his behavior.
41% The “Specials” Teacher had sent him out of the classroom. Why isn’t the Specials Teacher following the IEP?
A couple of days later I got notice that an IEP meeting had been set, including the Specials Teacher.
42% Wait, What? Why were we having an IEP meeting?
The meeting came and I learned that the Specials Teacher had not been given notice of the relevant accommodations in the IEP related to my son.
…None of the Specials Teachers had been given that information.
“Wait, What?” How can they do their jobs if they don’t have the information they need?
43% The meeting went well as far as my son is concerned. The Specials Teacher now has the knowledge and tools needed to manage my son’s behavior in the classroom.
Ironically, this meeting took place on the second to last day of Autism Awareness Month.
< My Thoughts > “None of the specials teachers had been given that information.” “Autism Awareness Month”
My motto (one of them) is never to assume anything! As parents and as teachers, immersed in the world of autism, we sometimes tend to ‘assume’ that everyone out there is as ‘consumed’ with the subject as we are. That ‘they’ are operating from the same knowledge base that we are. Not so! And, many people prefer not to think about anything that deviates from the ‘norm’, especially ‘autism’. Just saying.
End of excerpts from the book.
More Turnbull, III, et al. (2002), the IEP Team is also required by law to give the parents a Parental Notification Letter in advance of any pending meeting involving themselves and their child. Parents have the right to reschedule, invite others, and make requests. This is all clearly stated in the Notice of Procedural Safeguards & Parental Rights booklet, also required by law to be given to parents, prior to the scheduled or proposed meeting set by the IEP Team.
IDEA mandates that there may be no classroom placement nor programs are to be entered into, until the child is evaluated according to nondiscriminatory evaluation requirements. There are other statutes providing the child be awarded IEP development and assessment by personnel whom have ‘special knowledge’ regarding the disorder the child is being tested or receiving services for.
Another important part of IDEA is the provision for the child to receive programs and have placement in a LEA, Least Restrictive Environment. This means, generally that persons with disabilities are to be ‘fully’ or ‘partially’ integrated to varying degrees, and with modifications and accommodations, into the general curriculum. IDEA states that ‘full’ integration is preferred over ‘partial’ integration and ‘partial’ integration is preferred over ‘segregated’ service-delivery. Studies say that students who are severely disabled still benefit from interaction with their nondisabled peers.
Other types of services must be made available to the child. The need for Assistive Technology, augmentative, or alternative devices; or any other supplementary aids deemed necessary, is to be provided as an educational benefit. During extended school breaks, individuals must receive ESY, Extended School Year services and necessary transportation and specially trained aides, as needed at no cost to the family. This is when the child is currently enrolled in a school or program and they are being served by that school or program; it must also be part of their IEP. An IEP is always a ‘legal’ document.
< My Thoughts > Extended School Year Services –
ESY is so important because it doesn't take much for some students to lose skills over a 2 - 6 week period of time away from the classroom. Many school districts try to eliminate this service by stating that the student has met their goals, during the school year, and don't need to progress further until the next school year. First of all, the child has legal right to those services, transportation, nutrition and lunch provisions, as well as any after - school recreational program in order to keep from losing skills both academic and social.
Secondly, the misconception that ESY is just a baby-sitting service costing taxpayers ridiculous sums of money is false. I often taught during the school breaks because my kids needed the continuity and it was such a time of growth for them that I wanted to be there to guide that growing period. Also, it was an opportunity to introduce some of the topics student would be learning in their next school year. Every lesson, every day was IEP goals oriented and grade-level-curriculum based. Sometimes disguised as a nature walk or an art class, or building a bot. Smiles.
The 1997 amendments to IDEA also state that public agencies must be ‘first-payors’ and others as last resort. Also that private, parochial, charter and other private sites can contract with other agencies to provide services. If a disabled child’s parents have to remove their child from a public school because that school fails to provide FAPE, then parents may start a ‘due process’ hearing and possibly be awarded reimbursement for any costs. (Note: Due Process is every citizen’s constitutional and legal right to be treated fairly – basically saying. But, if the parents do not win, they must cover the legal fees involved in filing and pursuing the Due Process action.)
REFERENCES used are:
Bilaver, L., Cushing, L., & Cutler, A. (2015). Prevalence & Correlates of Educational Intervention Utilization Among Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder; Journal of Autism & Developmental Disorders V46; p.561-571.
Turnbull, III, H., Wilcox, B., Stowe, M. (2002). A Brief Overview of Special Education Law with Focus on Autism; Journal of Autism & Developmental Disorders V32:5; p.479-493.