Educational planning for students with autism often addresses a wide range of skill development, including academics, communication and language skills, social skills, self-help skills, behavioral issues, self-advocacy and leisure skills. It's important to consult with professionals trained specifically in autism to help a child benefit from his/her school program. Obtaining a range of opinions is also useful.
Most professionals agree that school aged children with autism respond well to highly structured, specialized education programs designed to meet individual needs. Based on the major characteristics associated with autism, there are areas that are important to look at when creating a plan:
- social skill development
- sensory integration
Programs sometimes include several treatment components coordinated to assist a person with autism. For example, one child’s plan may consist of speech therapy, social skill development and the use of medication, all within a structured behavior program. Another student’s may include social skill development, sensory integration and dietary changes. No one program or diet is perfect for every person with autism. It's important to try several approaches and find the ones that work best on an individual basis. As the Autism Society’s Options Policy states: “Each family and individual with autism should have the right to learn about and then select, the options that they feel are most appropriate for the individual with autism.“
With all of that said, parents and professionals need to work together. Teachers should have some understanding of the child's behavior and communication skills at home, and parents should let educators know about their expectations, as well as techniques that work at home. Open communication between school staff and parents can lead to better evaluation of a student's progress and setting goals.
Community goals, like purchasing meals and grocery shopping, can be reinforced through job assignments in the classroom and leisure goals, such as taking time to engage in a hobby each day, can also be practiced in both settings.
Academic goals need to be tailored to the student’s intellectual ability and functioning level. Some children may need help understanding social situations and developing appropriate responses. Others may exhibit aggressive or self-injurious behavior, and need assistance managing their behaviors. No one program will meet the needs of all individuals with the disability, so it is important to find the program or programs that best fit your child's needs. Just like treatment approaches, educational programs should be tailored to the child's individual needs, flexible and re-evaluated on a regular basis.
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