According to the National Institutes of Health, children with ASDs are guaranteed free, appropriate public education under federal laws. Public Law 108-77: Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act 17(2004) and Public Law 105-17: The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act—IDEA18 (1997) make it possible for children with disabilities to get free educational services and educational devices to help them to learn as much as they can. Each child is entitled to these services from age three through high school, or until age 21[age 22 in some states], whichever comes first.
The laws state that children must be taught in the least restrictive environment, appropriate for that individual child. This statement does not mean that each child must be placed in a regular classroom. Instead, the laws mean that the teaching environment should be designed to meet a child’s learning needs, while minimizing restrictions on the child’s access to typical learning experiences and interactions. Educating persons with ASDs often includes a combination of one-to-one, small group, and regular classroom instruction.
To qualify for access to special education services, the child must meet specific criteria as outlined by federal and state guidelines. You can contact a local school principal or special education coordinator to learn how to have your child assessed to see if he or she qualifies for services under these laws.
If your child qualifies for special services, a team of people, including you and your family, caregivers, teachers, school psychologists, and other child development specialists, will work together to design an Individualized Educational Plan (IEP)19 for your child. An IEP includes specific academic, communication, motor, learning, functional, and socialization goals for a child based on his or her educational needs. The team also decides how best to carry out the IEP, such as determining any devices or special assistance the child needs, and identifying the developmental specialists who will work with the child.
The special services team should evaluate and re-evaluate your child on a regular basis to see how your child is doing and whether any changes are needed in his or her plan.
Services provided at schools generally consist of Speech Therapy, Occupational Therapy, Physical Therapy, and may incorporate programs such as SCERTS, PECS, TeachTown, augmentative communication devices and programs, and others depending on the public school district.