Autism and Education: What Parents Really Need to Know

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Thus far on my blog I have spent a lot of time analyzing and debating the cause of Autism, the effects, and the research behind them.  This is all fascinating and fun to talk about (at least I hope so, it is for me), but parents out there that find out their child is Autistic are probably screaming:  So what!!  It doesn't change the now, and my child is in need of help.  What can I do as a parent to help my autistic child?I've often asked myself this while searching for something that would help my son.  The problem with searching for help for an autistic child is that the spectrum is so wide, it's hard to find something effective for all.  For that reason, I'm going to qualify the steps that we have outlined in conjunction with my son's Preschool:  My son is very high functioning, but not verbal (yet very vocal!).  So here is what I would recommend for any parent with an autistic child: 
  1. Have Your Child Evaluated:  Chances are you have had your child evaluated, which is how you know that your child has autism.  Remember that while it's possible to recognize one or two behaviors that are "autistic", there are a number of different conditions and syndromes that are very similar to Autism.  It's best if you have your child evaluated by a psychologist that works specifically with children with disabilities.  They are educated and trained to recognize the different spectrums and syndromes, and will be able to make a clinical diagnosis.  
  2. Contact Your Public School District:  Chances are your school district will have at least information on autism services, if they do not offer them.  More often than not, they do offer services, both at the Preschool and K-12 levels.  And before you start going off about how public schools fail our children, most public schools have Special Education teachers that became special ed teachers for a reason:  a member of their family has special needs.  That generally means they are determined to make a difference for special education students.  No, you generally will not find the Football coach teaching Special Ed, so your child's teacher will not be distracted by seasonal events.  
  3. Have A Special Education Team Evaluate Your Child:  Most Special Education teams that I am aware of include the Special Education teacher, a Speech and Language specialist, an Occupational Therapist, and a General Education  specialist.  They work together to evaluate the progress of their students by setting developmental goals for the student and evaluating their progress.  Our son's preschool has this team, each of whom want the best for our son.  They work with us to evaluate his goals, so that we not only know what the goals are, but what the process they will take him through is, and what progress we can expect.  
  4. Participate In Your Child's Education:  This is a general rule for all parents.  Our education system is broken, but not because of teachers.  For the most part, it is because of parents who would rather have someone else worry about their child's education than take that responsibility.  Well, guess what:  As a parent of a special needs child, your responsibility just doubled.  Children with special needs, like Autism, are NOT A WASTE OF RESOURCES!  it angers me when I hear parents complain, and some educators or legislators complain about the money it takes to help an autistic child succeed.  Autism does not make a child dumb, stupid, or instantly resign them to a life of street sweeping.  Autism just means that the child learns differently.  You need to cater to the child's learning process, so that they can succeed.  Get involved, learn what the teachers are doing, and how to continue that learning environment at home.  
Those are the things that I would recommend to any parent that has learned they have an autistic child and wants to know what to do next.  No, magic cures do not exist.  Don't expect autism to just go away, and don't just look from one day to the next even though it's often the simplest thing to do after a long bout of meltdowns and tantrums.  It is your responsibility as a parent to look forward in regards to your child's development.