How to get assistance during your autistic child’s high school years

How to get assistance during your autistic child’s high school years

If your autistic child is enrolled in the public school system, they are entitled, by law, to receive accommodations for their disability. It is up to you, the parent, to advocate on their behalf. Knowing what they are entitled to, and being aware of their needs, will help you to be effective in your dealings with administrators, therapists, and teachers.

First and foremost, remember that you are partners, not adversaries, with those that work with your child. The number of children with autism has exploded in the last decade, and universities and school systems are finding it difficult to keep up with the demand for qualified special ed teachers who are trained in working with the autistic. You know your child better than anyone, and any information and support you can provide to school personnel will pay big dividends. If they know you are supporting their efforts, and following their suggestions at home, they will be strong allies in helping your child become a capable, productive member of society.

With that said, step two, after developing the correct attitude, may seem obvious, but it is to decide what you want. Take a good, hard look at your child, and be realistic. Most autistic students have wide variations in their skill levels. They may be at grade level in one subject, and have drastic deficits in another. In our son Scott’s case, he could solve Algebra problems, and even some Trigonometry, but was clueless when given a story problem or practical math. Algebra had a limited number of presentation forms, and if he worked the problems over and over, he was fine. The story problems were nearly impossible for him because they were always different. So we had to customize his math program so that he could be successful.

Write down both your child’s strengths and their weaknesses. Look at everything – social skills, academics, life skills….As you examine each area, label your concerns from 1 to 5, with five being the areas that need the most work.

A few sample questions:

  • Social skills: How adept is your student at starting and continuing conversations? Are they appropriate? What about eye contact? Does your child constantly interrupt other people who are having a conversation? What about staring? Can your child stay on topic during a conversation? Is their speech understandable? Can they take telephone messages? Get voicemail?
  • Life skills: Does your student know the value of coins? How to make change? Make a bed? Operate a microwave and a stove? Open a can? Safely cross a street/understand traffic signals? Operate a washing machine/dryer? Know how to separate clothing colors to do laundry? Unlock the door to their house? Know how to work a combination lock? You get the idea…… Education for a special needs child is not just about academics, but how to help them to function in the world. All of these life skills have been difficult for our son, Scott. For him, it is easier to do a History class map test then to do his laundry!
  • Academics: First and foremost, can your student read well? Everything else in academics hinges upon good reading skills. Do they comprehend what they read? What about handwriting? Is it legible? Does your student understand good sentence structure? Can they stay on topic when writing? In math, do they know their about multiplication tables? Fractions? Percentages? They don’t necessarily have to be well-versed in Algebra and Geometry, but it is important that they have basic math skills. Can they read a map? Work email on the computer? Use Microsoft Word? Do they understand the basics of banking? Checking accounts? Interest? Having a budget?

As a parent, having all of the above skills are goals that you should have for your student. If you have a clear perspective of their strengths and weaknesses, you can present your goals and concerns to school personnel and partner with them, brainstorming how to best help your student….

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