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Effective use of the Autism Supplement—first 2 strategies . . . .

So, how do I actually use this supplement? 

It’s great that Texas put into effect the autism supplement to help children with autism and their educators to make sure that they are receiving an appropriate education. But, in order for it to be effectively utilized, it’s a good idea to be familiar with the options for placement, services, and accommodations to which these strategies can lead.

My suggestion is to print your own copy of the autism supplement and talk to someone who is familiar with your child and his or her needs to get ideas—maybe your child’s therapist, tutor, a family friend familiar with special education, an educational advocate, etc.

In my previous post, “So what is the Autism Supplement? How do I get it? Do I want it?”, I provided an overview of the autism supplement located at 19 TAC §89.1055(e). (See statute for full text.) In this post, I will focus on the first two of the 11 strategies in the autism supplement and specific examples of strategies for each.

The first strategy:

 “[E]xtended educational programming (for example: extended day and/or extended school year services that consider the duration of programs/settings based on assessment of behavior, social skills, communication, academics, and self-help skills) . . . .”

 Examples:

  • Extended School Year (ESY) services
  • After school tutoring
  • Extended PPCD (private preschool for children with disabilities) program

ESY. The Texas Education Agency (TEA) defines “extended school year (ESY) services” as “an individualized instructional program for eligible students with disabilities that is provided beyond the regular school year.”

In order to qualify for ESY services, the student must require a significant amount of time to recoup acquired critical skills and need extended educational or related services during school breaks. However, if the loss of such skills would be severe or substantial or is reasonably expected to result in immediate physical harm to the student or others, the student can qualify for ESY services without consideration of the period of time necessary for recoupment of such skills.

The following requirements apply to ESY services:

  • The need for and type of ESY services are determined by the student’s ARD committee on an individual basis.
  • ESY services are student-need driven.
  • ESY goals and activities are reflected in the student’s current IEP.
  • All disability categories are considered for ESY.
  • ESY services are not limited in type, amount, or duration and may include community options and services.
  • Transportation is available for students with a need.

Recommendations if you want ESY services:

  • In the ARD meeting, tell the committee that you think ESY is appropriate for your child.
  • Early in the process (the first ARD, if possible), ask for the school to keep data on your child during breaks (g. holidays, summer, etc.) to determine whether there is regression.
  • If you have outside therapy providers, ask them to keep data regarding regression during therapy breaks.

The second strategy.

 “[D]aily schedules reflecting minimal unstructured time and active engagement in learning activities (for example: lunch, snack, and recess periods that provide flexibility within routines; adapt to individual skill levels; and assist with schedule changes, such as changes involving substitute teachers and pep rallies) . . . .”

 In 2007, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), advised “there is a growing consensus that important principles and components of effective early childhood intervention for children with ASDs include . . . incorporation of a high degree of structure through elements such as predictable routine, visual activity schedules, and clear physical boundaries to minimize distractions . . . .”[1]

Minimal unstructured time means that IEP goals and objectives are being addressed, and the student is being engaged throughout the day and across settings, and it begins the minute the student arrives and ends the minute he or she leaves—I suggest also considering any time spent on school provided transportation. The schedule is student specific—not teacher or classroom specific—and formats and time increments should be tailored to the individual needs of the student.

During the ARD meeting, remember to consider and discuss the following:

  • Examine behaviors during unstructured times, including the following considerations, if applicable:
    • Is there an increase in self-stimulatory behaviors?
    • Is there an increase in off-task behaviors?
    • Is there an increase in self-injurious or aggressive behaviors?
    • Are difficulties observed during transition periods?
    • Analyze the student’s behavior in different unstructured environment (g. general education classroom, hallways, cafeteria, playground, small and large group settings, job site, restroom, assemblies, and pep rallies).
  • Can the student use the same schedule as everyone else with no problems, including when schedule changes occur?
  • How will the student be informed of the schedule so as to minimize surprise? Options include:
    • Picture schedules. These may stay on the board in front of the room or with the student. Someone should review the schedule with the student each morning. Make sure to discuss privacy concerns—for example, a student probably would not be comfortable with his or her toileting schedule being posted for the entire class to see.
    • Weekly planners for older students. Someone should review the schedule for the upcoming day with the student each morning.

These examples are not exclusive! Think outside the box. Get ideas from the internet, friends, family, therapists, doctors, etc. to work with the school to craft a plan for your child.

[1] Myers, Scott M., MD, Chris Plauche; Johnson, MD, MEd. “Management of Children With Autism Spectrum Disorders.” Pediatrics—Official Journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics, vol. 120, no. 5., Oct. 2007, pp. 1162 – 1182, http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/pediatrics/early/2007/ 10/29/peds.2007-2362.full.pdf.

So what is the Autism Supplement? How do I get it? Do I want it?

This blog post is meant to give a summarized overview of the Autism Supplement and the strategies therein. I intend to post additional blog posts with more specific information on the 11 strategies with examples. For the full text of the applicable statute, see 19 TAC §89.1055(e).

What is this Supplement?

The Texas Education code requires that for students eligible under the autism label, 11 strategies must be considered and, when needed, addressed in the IEP. And if the ARD committee determines that services are not needed any of the 11 areas, the IEP must state as much and why.

 These 11 strategies include:

  1. extended educational programming,
  2. daily schedules reflecting minimal unstructured time and active engagement in learning activities,
  3. in-home and community-based training or viable alternatives that assist the student with acquisition of social/behavioral skills,
  4. positive behavior support strategies based on relevant information,
  5. beginning at any age, futures planning for integrated living, work, community, and educational environments that considers skills necessary to function in current and post-secondary environments,
  6. parent/family training and support, provided by qualified personnel with experience in Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD),
  7. suitable staff-to-student ratio appropriate to identified activities and as needed to achieve social/behavioral progress based on the student’s developmental and learning level (acquisition, fluency, maintenance, generalization) that encourages work towards individual independence as determined by, for example:
    1. adaptive behavior evaluation results,
    2. behavioral accommodation needs across settings, and
    3. transitions within the school day,
  8. communication interventions, including language forms and functions that enhance effective communication across settings, 
  9. social skills supports and strategies based on social skills assessment/curriculum and provided across settings,
  10. professional educator/staff support, and
  11. teaching strategies based on peer reviewed, research-based practices for students with ASD.

*Of note, the full text of the statute includes helpful examples of these strategies.

How do I get it?

For these 11 strategies to be required to be considered, the student must be eligible for special education services under the autism label.

So, what is Autism?

The Individuals With Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) provides that autism means a developmental disability significantly affecting verbal and nonverbal communication and social interaction, generally evident before age three, that adversely affects a child’s educational performance. The IDEA further provides examples of other characteristics often associated with autism, including engagement in repetitive activities and stereotyped movements, resistance to environmental change or change in daily routines, and unusual responses to sensory experiences. But, the IDEA states that autism does not apply if a child’s educational performance is adversely affected primarily because the child has an emotional disturbance.

*Of note, although somewhat similar, the definition of autism set forth in the IDEA that applies to public schools and the definition set forth in the DSM-V are different. This is one reason some children will receive an autism diagnosis from their private medical provider(s) but not from their school.

So, what is an emotional disturbance?

            The IDEA defines emotional disturbance as

a condition exhibiting one or more of the following characteristics over a long period of time and to a marked degree that adversely affects a child’s educational performance:

  1. An inability to learn that cannot be explained by intellectual, sensory, or health factors.
  2. An inability to build or maintain satisfactory interpersonal relationships with peers and teachers.
  3. Inappropriate types of behavior or feelings under normal circumstances.
  4. A general pervasive mood of unhappiness or depression.
  5. A tendency to develop physical symptoms or fears associated with personal or school problems.

Why is this important?

Although Texas law does not require that the 11 strategies set forth in the Autism Supplement be implemented, it does require that they be considered for students with autism. This is helpful because it provides parents/guardians with guidance regarding specific strategies that are available, and it opens up conversations about these strategies in IEP meetings. In addition, to the extent the IEP committee determines not to utilize one of the strategies, the IEP must state this and give the basis for this determination. So, if the school does not want to utilize any of the strategies, they need to explain to the parent/guardian why, which further opens up the conversation regarding these strategies. I encourage parents/guardians to print their own copy of the Autism Supplement, bring it to IEP meetings, and make sure that each of the strategies is discussed.

Print your own Autism Supplement 

 

What do I do if I think my child might have a disability ? . . .

School just started back up, and routines are starting to normalize. Many parents–including me–sent a child to public school for the first time. Many kids are progressing through the numbered ranks of the school system with relative ease. But many are struggling and falling behind. So, what happens when you notice that your child is having more trouble in school than what you feel is typical?

Start by notifying the school of your concerns. Be specific. Put it in writing. The easiest thing to do is send an email. Depending on your situation, it might make sense to email your child’s teachers with your concerns and ask for their thoughts and inquire as to how your child is performing in class. Or, if you are certain you want your child to be evaluated for special education services, you can send an email to your school’s special education director, the principal, your child’s teachers, and/or other individuals you feel are appropriate–if you are going this route, I suggest you copy all of these people. The bottom line is that you want to trigger the school’s “child find” obligation under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, which requires school districts to identify, locate, and evaluate all children with disabilities. All that is needed to trigger this obligation is a “suspicion” that a child has a disability that adversely affects their educational performance. This suspicion can be triggered by your email to the school. Keep in mind that educational performance includes not only academic performance–it can be speech problems, attention problems, issues with social skills, etc.

Thereafter, the school should schedule an evaluation planning meeting (or at least give you a call) to determine the areas in which your child needs evaluation(s) and have you sign consent forms for the initial evaluation–called a Full Individual Evaluation or an “FIE”. The school generally has 45 school days to perform an FIE after the consent forms are signed, so be sure to ask for these forms as soon as possible to avoid unnecessary delay. For example, if you send your initial email to the school on April 15, but you don’t sign the consents until May 15, due to the fact that only school days are included in the 45-day calculation and it’s almost summer, your child might not be evaluated until late September of the following school year.

After the FIE is completed, you will attend a meeting to discuss the FIE, determine eligibility for special education services, and–if eligible–determine your child’s placement and Individualized Education Program (“IEP”). This is called an Admission, Review, & Dismissal (“ARD”) committee meeting or an IEP meeting. Only in Texas do we call this meeting an ARD meeting. Thereafter, the school should implement the IEP as agreed to by the ARD committee members. Of course, this is just a very basic outline of the beginning of the process, and there may be a few hiccups along the way. Just remember that you know your child better than anyone, and you are your child’s best advocate.

 

 

 

Why I do what I do . . . .

When I became an attorney in 2005, I had no idea that there were attorneys who represented children with special needs to obtain special education services at school. I didn’t know the difference between an IEE and an FIE and a REED. I didn’t know about the protections provided by federal law under the IDEA or Section 504.

So when I learned that my daughter Georgia would be born with Down syndrome, I started researching her educational options. And I learned about all of these things and decided that one day I would represent families and help them with special education issues. I have always hoped and wished to be able to use my legal skills for a cause about which I am passionate. I have that now. And I am eternally grateful for the opportunity and ability to represent children with special needs like my daughter.

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