Developing an Individualized education plan for autistic individuals can create a positive learning environment for the student and their entire classroom. These plans help students with autism:
- access the support services they need
- work on specific goals to minimize disruptions
- achieve post-graduation success
IEPs are legally mandated, so every school district should be prepared to develop them. IEPs for autistic students benefit students, teachers and families.
What is an Individualized Education Program (IEP)?
Every student has unique needs. This is doubly true for autistic individuals or those with other disabilities. An IEP is a government-mandated plan for addressing the specific needs and learning goals for a disabled student. The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) requires public schools to provide a free and appropriate education to all students. An IEP can help children with disabilities succeed in the classroom.
An individual with an IEP for autism spectrum disorder will work on goals that address academic, social and communication challenges. An ASD IEP ensures that teachers and administrators are working to help autistic students develop the skills they’ll need for real world success. Because IEPs are a legal requirement for publicly funded schools, they are taken very seriously. School districts often have special education coordinators who:
- enforce individual education programs
- provide resources to teachers
- visit with students to make sure IEP autism goals are being reached
What is the Process for Obtaining an IEP?
An IEP is available for children with disabilities in 13 different categories including:
- Hearing Impairment
- Mental Retardation
- Multiple Disabilities
- Orthopedic Impairment
- Other Health Impairment
- Serious Emotional Disturbance
- Specific Learning Disability
- Speech or Language Impairment
- Traumatic Brain Industry
- Visual Impairment including Blindness
If a caregiver (or teacher) of a child with autism feels their child needs special education services, IEP is needed, they must request an evaluation. If someone within the school system requests the evaluation, the parent must give consent in order for the evaluation to take place. Different professionals within the school system may be asked to complete the evaluation, but other professionals like a developmental pediatrician may also be asked to assist. The evaluation will answer questions like:
- Does the child have a disability?
- What are their current levels of academic achievement and performance?
- Does their disability adversely affect their ability to participate in age-appropriate activities?
- Does the child need special education or related services?
If the evaluation show that the child needs special education services, an IEP meeting will be the next step.
At the IEP meeting, an IEP team gets together to address how best to meet the child’s education needs. The IEP team should be comprised of people who are familiar with the child and can add insight into their needs and abilities. The IEP team should include:
- the child’s parents and/or caregivers
- teachers (regular and special education teacher)
- the child if appropriate
- local education agency officials
Depending on the child, other professionals may attend the meeting including:
- school psychologist
- social workers
By law, there are specific elements an IEP must include. There must be a statement of the child’s current academic and functional abilities as we discussed above. The IEP team will determine goals for the child. These may include academic and functional goals. There also needs to be a description of how progress will be measured and when progress reports will be completed. Any program modifications or supports for school personnel should be clearly stated so that the child has the opportunity to make progress in the classroom and participate in school and extracurricular activities to the best of their ability. A clear start date for the beginning of any modifications or services should also be included. Educators must know the frequency, location, and durations of each of these activities, so they are performed on a consistent basis.
Individuals who are 16 years or older should have a transition plan included in their IEP. This plan includes the activities needed to transition from school to post-educational activities. Some students will need to work on independent living skills and those can be included in the IEP.
Annual Review Meeting
The annual review meeting is held to review the child’s progress toward the goals in their IEP. The IEP team will get together to review reports and data and discuss any changes or updates. The group will decide if the child met their goals, fell behind, or exceeded the expectations. Parents should be prepared to discuss any progress they’ve seen in their child and whether they believe the child benefited from the services provided through the IEP. The child’s teacher and parents can share the child’s strengths and weaknesses.
The group will also review the results of any new assessments or evaluations that have been completed since the last meeting. Parents and others should have the opportunity to ask questions or seek clarification about the information provided.
The team will determine goals for the next year, make updates as needed. Essentially, a new IEP is created.
What Goals Can an IEP for an Autistic Person Include?
Families and teachers should work together to decide on the most important and realistic goals for students with autism. Some IEPs focus on social goals and include objectives like having the student raise their hand before speaking, wait their turn when playing with others or avoid interrupting other students. Other plans concentrate on academic skills like completing homework, not talking during tests or listening to lectures even when bored. Some individuals with autism also have motor skill impairments. The IEP may include goals related to activities of daily living or handwriting to improve large or fine motor skills. The student should agree to the goals and be willing to follow them at least 80% of the time.
Can an IEP Help Autistic Students Access Special Services?
Students with autism may have a legal right to special education services. These include:
- school counselors
- classroom aides
- behavioral therapists
- speech therapists
An IEP for autistic individuals can specify how often the student receives services, what levels of interventions will be delivered and what the long-term goals are. For parents, an IEP plan for autism may be the only way to afford specialist services.
How Often Is a Child’s IEP Updated?
As a child ages, the IEP can be modified for their developmental needs. Older students are entitled to a plan that includes the classes needed for graduation and occupational services for post-graduate success. School age children will have their plan reviewed at least once per year at an annual review meeting.
Some families stop using an IEP for their student after a certain level of progress has been made. Others keep their child on an individualized plan for their entire educational career, even if the plan includes fewer objectives and services in later years. For autistic college students, having graduated high school with an IEP still active can make the transition to undergraduate life easier.
Many students use IEPs throughout their school career. They are not stigmatizing or shameful. An IEP for autism can enhances the experience of everyone involved with the students.