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Autism and Special Education Advocacy
by Margaret Vogt
November 2010 – With the increase in the number of children diagnosed with autism, our education system is faced with the daunting task of providing appropriate special education services to children classified with autism by local school districts. The Regulations of the Commissioner of Education of the State of New York provide for specific special education services for children with autism. Parents of students who have been given a classification of autism by their school district’s Committee on Special Education (CSE) need to be aware of these provisions when advocating for their children. The provisions can be found in Part 200.13 in the Regulations of the Commissioner of Education.
It is clear in the Regulations that all special education and related services needed for students to make educational progress must be provided to students with autism. The program must be based on the student’s unique educational needs.
The chronological age range of instructional groups serving students with autism shall not exceed 36 months for students under 16 and shall not be limited for students 16 years of age and older. This requirement is very important, and parents should request a class profile if they suspect that a problem exists concerning the makeup of a class. Special classes made up of only students with autism may not contain more than six students and must also have at least one additional school employee in the classroom (besides the teacher) during instructional time. A school district can apply for a variance if additional space for students is needed, but in general, the class size should not exceed the above standard to ensure a quality learning environment.
Students with autism must be provided with instruction to meet their individual language needs for a minimum of 30 minutes daily in a group no larger than two, or 60 minutes daily in a group no larger than six. The required instruction may be delivered in the classroom by the student’s special education teacher as long as it is designed to meet the student’s individual language needs. Remember that these are minimum requirements. Many students with autism have language needs that would require speech and language instruction and therapy in excess of these minimum amounts. It should be noted that a proposal is before the New York State Department of Education to eliminate the above minimum requirements. It is important for parents to consider how this change in the regulations may affect their children’s educational progress. More information on this issue and the new legislation that could be proposed to change the regulations can be found on the Regent’s website: www.regents.nysed.gov.
The Regulations also require that to the maximum extent appropriate, a student’s program should provide instruction and services that will help the student move toward placement in less restrictive environments or a regular classroom. The goal of education for a student with autism is to allow him to move as much as possible into the mainstream. When students with autism do start receiving their education in less restrictive settings or a general education classroom, a special education teacher with a background in teaching students with autism must provide services to the student to be sure that his special education needs are met.
Finally, parent counseling and training must be a part of the IEP for students with autism to help parents perform appropriate follow-up activities at home. This service can take many forms, depending on the needs of the child and the parents, from actual training in the home to meetings at the school. This is an important part of any program for a student with autism as it helps parents learn the strategies and techniques that have been successful with their children in school and helps students generalize the skills they learn in school to their home and community.