raising autism header


Personal Note: On our trip with Thomas, we have been in about any school situation you can think of: public schools, private schools, residential school, school/teachers in psychiatric wards and crises homes.



Cheat sheet to understanding a Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE) for Students with Disabilities

Section 504, Rehabilitation Act of 1973

Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA)

IDEA and Section 504 Free and Appropriate Education (FAPE) Compared

Tackling Individual Educational Plan or Program (IEP) (I heard it called both)

Things to Remember about IEPs

Paraprofessional and 1on1 Aide

General Education or Special Education Classroom or Some Combination of Both

Pre-school Under IDEA


Content Specialist (Basically a point person for the school district. Could go by other names)

School Job Descriptions


The most important thing you can do to help your child with autism succeed in school is pick out the teachers that he will learn from throughout his time in school. There are lots of impressive special education teachers working. For teachers to take the leap to be special education teachers they really have to be passionate about it. Not all teachers, classrooms and schools will be the best match. If you are able to go and visit classes and see a teacher in action, do it. It will save you, the teachers and the school district time and headaches in the future.

In our experience we really had one bad teacher. The teacher really did not want to be a special education teacher. Thomas got the teacher unexpectedly. We thought we were placing him with a certain teacher but that teacher moved right before the start of school. As it was, Thomas was hard on the good teachers. Thomas quickly took advantage of a weak or bad teacher. Teachers can also get burned out or have too many kids in their class with not enough para support.

Public special education teachers are great! Do not think that a special education teacher at a private school is better than at a public school. Some of the best teachers Thomas has had have been in public school. This is not to say there have not been great teachers in private schools. Being a special education teacher is hard work and challenging. They have to juggle teaching, hiring, coordinating, and training paras, writing IEPs, and IEP meetings. They have a lot of balls to juggle. So support them whenever you can.

Cheat sheet to understanding a Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE) for Students with Disabilities

There are two acts that affect children with disabilities Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act and Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). The difference between the two acts is the narrowness of specificity and requirements for assistance. Section 504 has less specific procedural criteria of who is disabled, appropriate education, due process, and fewer federal government regulations. Schools may offer less assistance and monitoring under Section 504. Section 504 covers the rights of persons with disabilities in most areas of their life such as employment, public access, transportation, and education.

IDEA is more specific in criteria of eligibility, time frames, parental rights and participation, and formal paperwork required (IEP, Triennials, Psychiatric, Speech and Language, Occupational Reports. IDEA lays out the requirements for special education from preschool to graduation (age 3 to 21)

In general, all school-age children who are individuals with disabilities as defined by Section 504 and Individuals with Disabilities Education Act IDEA are entitled to FAPE.

Either the parents and or school district can initiate an evaluation of a child for disabilities.

Note: For children with autism IDEA should be what is used for their education. Explanation of Section 504 Rehabilitation Act here is just in case it comes up and to show the differences with IDEA. It will become apparent that IDEA is more beneficial.


Section 504, Rehabilitation Act of 1973

“Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 protects the rights of individuals with disabilities in programs and activities that receive federal financial assistance, including federal funds. Section 504 provides that: “No otherwise qualified individual with a disability in the United States . . . shall, solely by reason of her or his disability, be excluded from the participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance “

The ED Section 504 regulation defines a person with a disability as “any person who: (i) has a physical or mental impairment which substantially limits one or more major life activities, (ii) has a record of such an impairment, or (iii) is regarded as having such an impairment.” Mental and physical disabilities can be established by documents from medical professionals.

More on Section 504 Rehabilitation Act of 1973 from the US Department of Education: http://www2.ed.gov/about/offices/list/ocr/docs/edlite-FAPE504.html

Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA)


Not all children with learning and attention issues are eligible for special education services under IDEA. Disabilities that IDEA covers:

-Emotional disturbance
-Hearing impairment
-Intellectual disability
-Multiple disabilities
-Orthopedic impairment
-Other health impairment (including ADHD)
-Specific learning disability (including dyslexia, dyscalculia and dysgraphia, among others)
-Speech or language impairment
-Traumatic brain injury
-Visual impairment, including blindness

Under IDEA a child’s disability must adversely affects their educational performance.

US Department of Education IDEA website: http://idea.ed.gov/

H.R.1350 -- Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act of 2004 (Enrolled Bill [Final as Passed Both House and Senate] - ENR) Actual IDEA bill: http://thomas.loc.gov/cgi-bin/query/z?c108:h.r.1350.enr:


IDEA and Section 504 Free and Appropriate Education (FAPE) Compared

IDEA requires an Individual Education Plan/Program (IEP). Section 504 does not.

Under IDEA an appropriate education is a program that is designed to provide educational benefits to a person with disabilities. Under Section 504 appropriate education means comparable to normal students.

IDEA placement can be any combination of special and general education. Section 504, placement is in general education with support.

Under IDEA, related educational services are provided if required like speech and language therapy, occupational therapy, physical therapy, counseling services, psychological services, social services, and transportation. Section 504 related services if needed.

Both are enforced by U.S. Department of Education, Office of Civil Rights for all schools receiving federal funding.

Disagreement between Parent and School District about Eligibility and how a Child with Disabilities should be Educated Procedures.

Under both IDEA and Section 504 an impartial hearing must be provided for parents that disagree with the identification, evaluation, or placement of the student.

Under IDEA parents must be notified 10 days or more before any change in placement. Under Section 504 parents must be notified before a change in placement. IDEA requires written consent. Section 504 does not.

To resolve a disagreement under IDEA there are specific procedures. An impartial appointee selects the hearing officer. Under Section 504 a hearing officer is usually appointed by the school and procedures are left up to the school. Under both parents can participate and be represented by legal counsel.

While the dispute is being resolved under the IDEA a student’s current IEP and placement is implemented. Under Section 504 there is no continuation provision.

Tackling Individual Educational Plan or Program (IEP) (I heard it called both)

Parents are an equal participant in an IEP

IEP Team

IEP Team should include parents, the child’s special education teachers or special service providers (like Speech and Language), one general education teacher, and disabled child if applicable.

Other attendees can be representative of a public agency, individual, who can interpret the instructional implications of evaluation results, and at the discretion of the parents or agency, other individuals who have knowledge or special expertise regarding the child, including related services personnel as appropriate ( speech and language, school psychologist, content specialist*)

There is usually also a school district administrative representative at the IEP like an assistant principal, or the principal. At some of Thomas’ IEPs we had various special education supervisors and higher up special education administrators.

IDEA IEP Team Section (300.321) http://idea.ed.gov/explore/view/p/,root,regs,300,D,300%252E321,

What should be in an IEP?

The IEP should accurately describe all your child’s disabilities and how these disabilities will be addressed in order to give your child a Free and Appropriated Education.

The clearest way to describe your child’s disabilities in an IEP is to include information from the most current evaluations like present levels of educational performance, scores, and any medical diagnosis.

To address your child’s disabilities in an educational setting services are rendered each list goals and objectives to measure progress that can be reasonably accomplished in a year. Common services are teacher, speech and language, and occupational therapy with the start (and ending) of each service, where, and the amount of time for each service to be rendered. Goals and objectives are usually prepared by the service provider but you can discuss other goals and objections or make modification.

How progress will be measured.

Needs to be finished

Other services including bus, assistive services and technology devices such as communication devices, and 1 on1. More on 1 on 1s below.

How much time a student will spend in a special education class or in classes with nondisabled children. (more below on this as well).


Things to Remember about IEPs:

-IEPs are a process and are never absolutely “final”. They are just final till the next one is signed by all parties.

- The IEP meetings do not have to result in a signed IEP. You do not have to sign it. The previous IEP is still in effect.

-Even if you do sign an IEP or things change you can always call an emergency IEP which has to happen in 48 hours and there is no limit to the amount of IEPs that can be called. With my son, there had been times where we were having IEPs about once a week and one time I think we had two in a week; almost all of them except for one were called by the school district. The whole thing is an ongoing process. Go in relaxed.

-If you feel uncertain about an IEP do an audio recording of your IEPs. You have to give the school district at least 24 hour notice before the IEP that you plan on recording it. The time and how to notify could be different in different school districts. Generally you can call, mail or e-mail the teacher and/or school district person. They will record it also. You probably will never actually use the recording, but it makes everyone realize that everything they say is being recorded.

- Go in with the why's you are not satisfied with current situation. I would state your list of complaints and how you think they should be addressed by the school.

-If the school district wants to change placement, ask why they feel this other placement is a good fit and how it would meet your complaints (if any).

- Visit the school before agreeing to have your child placed there or not. Schools have various teacher to student ratios and quality of teachers and paras. Also ask about the bus, the kids on the bus, and what would be the length of the bus trip. Consider how your child does with long bus rides and possibly be stuck in traffic. The school district will be fine with all this. If you visit schools and do not like them you will be able to list why they would not work and the school district will have to address your objections especially if they are well founded.

-Ask the school district if they can give you at least two schools that you can visit and compare.

-Go into the IEP relaxed and realize that this is a process and the IEP is always changeable or nothing has to be changed at this IEP.

-One of your goals should also be to get the content specialist and other school district officials on your side. I never have been in a contentious IEP with the SF school district or San Mateo School district and I have been in plenty of IEPs. We went from public schools, to private schools, to a residential school out of state with little contention.

-If there is too much water under the bridge with the current content specialist you can ask the school district for a change in content specialist or IEP team. They can change this. I have never done this but know it can be done.


Paraprofessional and 1on1 Aide

Basic job description of a Paraprofessional: To assist, support, and work closely with teachers, administrators, and other team members in providing educational benefit for students.

Basic job description for a 1 on 1 -aide to support a child in behavior management, instructional support, activities of daily living (i.e. toileting, dressing, hygiene, etc.), social skills training, task redirection, discreet trial training, etc, in order for them to receive a free appropriate public education.

When we were starting down the road with Thomas we were told by other parents that having a 1 on 1 for your child was an ultimate have (along with going to a private school, more on that later). The truth is more of like if it is needed. Good teachers and para team can work with and teach a number of children successfully. Having a 1 on 1 is not going to make up for a poor teacher. A good special education teacher is better.

The case for a 1 on 1 aide needs to be based on a child’s needs like everything else in an IEP. The cost for a 1 on 1 aide is significant to school districts. While it is easy to say costs should not be a factor, they are. The real determining factor is “appropriate education” in FAPE. You must prove that your child education is hindered beyond appropriate. Even parents of normal functioning children would love to have a personal tutor following their child around all day.

Personal Note on 1on 1s: Thomas was assigned a 1 on 1 by the school district in middle school. This was more for his safety and others. If Thomas was left with too much time to think, it usually led to trouble. He needed a 1 on 1 for the bus and the school. There were times during “honeymoon” when school staff would think this kid is easy why does he need a 1 on 1. We were in an IEP were they said they wanted take away the 1 on 1. We told them why he needed a 1 on 1 but we were OK if they thought he did not need one. We had an IEP shortly thereafter, and the school wanted Thomas to have a 1 on 1. Thomas was eventually kicked out of the school and banned from the school property.

General Education or Special Education Classroom or Some Combination of Both

This comes down to a cold hard assessment by the parents because in general the school district and teachers will accommodate what the parents think and feel even if the evidence for something else maybe contrary. This is especially true when a child has been diagnosed with autism at a young age and we as parents see a bubbly kid and want the best for child. We want our child to fit in to as close to normal, as we should. We have hopes for the future despite our child’s autism. When you first receive the diagnosis of autism you are still trying to understand autism and the peculiarities of your child.

I have met parents that did try and keep their child in general education classes and then later regretted it. Special Education teachers are trained to challenge children with autism across the spectrum and to teach them in a way they can learn with their disabilities. The teacher to student ratio is smaller in a special education class. In a general education class the teacher will be teaching to the overall classroom and will have less opportunity and training to address a child with mental retardation. Even with a para helping, the pace of lessons in a general education classroom may be faster than can be absorbed by a mentally disabled child. This could depend on the class and teacher.

In a normal classroom the onus of learning is more on the child especially as they get older. In a special education the onus of learning is more on the teacher and their team as outlined in the IEP.

Personal Note on General Education and Special Education: Thomas was almost always in a special education class with only occasional participation in general education. We generally relied on the special education teacher if they thought it would be beneficial for Thomas to be in a general education class depending on subject and the teacher.

The last general education class that Thomas participated in was a science class in middle school. The teacher was a former special education teacher. Thomas did well and participated as much as he could. I do not know how much he actually learned, but I think it was good for him to see how a general education class worked and how non-disabled kids participated.


Pre-school Under IDEA

Under IDEA if your child is diagnosed with any of the eligible disabilities, or a physical or mental condition likely to result in developmental delay; your child is eligible for preschool. This is not like a pre-school where a child without disabilities would go. The teacher is a special education teacher. The pre-school is geared toward early intervention.

One of the more recent studies: Long-Term Outcomes of Early Intervention in 6-Year-Old Children With Autism Spectrum Disorder

I have met parents that have held their child out of pre-school or early intervention programs. Their child had been diagnosed with autism or pervasive disorder- not otherwise specified and were eligible for pre-school under IDEA. There reasons were out of a mixture of hope, denial and fear. Even if you feel your child was improperly diagnosed take advantage of this opportunity as it as educational opportunity for your child that cannot hurt and can only help even if your child is found to be in the spectrum of normal. Autism is not contagious. You will not regret letting your child participate in a special education pre-school class.

Personal Note on Pre-school: Thomas had a very good special education teacher, speech and language and occupational therapist in pre-school. We knew Thomas had disabilities but at the time there were questions as to whether he was autistic. For Halloween, they carved a pumpkin and he was the only kid right in there scooping out the inners with his bare hands. Sensory issues? He also loved circle time would try and get all the other kids gathered together and sitting so that circle time could begin.


The school will do periodic evaluations like psychological, speech and language, and occupational therapy. Parents should be included in the input of the evaluations from the start. There should be no major surprises because of an evaluation that the parents should not know of before the IEP. At the IEP, the evaluator should go more in depth about their findings and recommendations based on their evaluation.


Content Specialist (Basically a point person for the school district. Could go by other names)

Under the supervision of the Special Education Executive Director and Program Administrator, the Content Specialist is a representative of the department, acting as a liaison between Central Office and the field. As indicated in the Education Code: Special Education Content Specialists provide technical assistance, program coordination and evaluation, monitoring for compliance, as well as training and consultation as needed, specifically with the staff and community.

Essential Functions and Performance Responsibilities:
-Provide on-site and in-class coaching and support to teachers and staff in select schools to assist in implementing a sound educational program for children with Autism Spectrum Disorder and/or students with severe impairments.
–Demonstrate use of techniques and instructional strategies related to autism, communication, social skills, and behavior management to classroom teachers and other staff at selected sites.
-Assist staff in the development of comprehensive program support plans in general education settings and special day classes.
-Provide professional development on the development and implementation of comprehensive program support plans to include: instructional strategies, communication social skills, and behavior management related to Autism Spectrum Disorder and/or the severely impaired student. -Consult with special education teachers, general education teachers, site administrators, Designated Instructional Services staff, caregivers and related agencies on program supports.
-Consult with special education staff (including assessment and DIS staff) on appropriate individualized curriculum.
-Conduct and participate in monthly study groups on issues related to autism.
-Attend IEP meetings as appropriate.
-Meet weekly with Program Administrator and with Special Education Content Specialists.
-Develop and supervise pool of specialized paraprofessionals to support Autism Programs across the District.
-Attend mediations and represent SFUSD in due process as needed.
-Perform other duties as assigned by the Program Administrator and/or Executive Director.

School Job Descriptions

(San Francisco Unified School District is used as an example, but you can search for other school districts)