Picture this: your perfect child isn’t keeping up with children their age. Parents might not recognize difficulties their child are having; even if they are not developing at the same rate as their peers. If you are a parent of a child with autism, or think they may have it, you’re not alone.
You may feel unsure of what steps to take next. This guide for parents will help you navigate through the twists and turns of this remarkable neurological landscape. The best way to set children up for success is through early intervention which is possible through early detection.
We’ll cover some basics about the Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) to unraveling the intricacies of the diagnostic and evaluation process. We’ve got your back like an oversized, sensory-friendly hoodie. Also, we’ll clarify some of the legal jargon and illuminate California laws that protect and support your child’s education and well-being.
After reading this Autism Guide for Parents, we hope you’ll feel as informed as a walking, talking encyclopedia of autism know-how. Many of the essential resources we’ve compiled will prepare you to best advocate for your child.
Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a complex developmental condition that affects communication, social interaction, and behavior. An estimated 1 in 54 children in the United States are diagnosed with autism. If you suspect that your child may have autism, it is important to seek a professional evaluation. Diagnosis uses criteria from the DSM 5. Learn more about the DSM and some differences between the previous DSM IV and V as it relates to autism in this post. If you really want to get into the weeds, you can order a copy of the DSM 5, here.
Let’s review some resources and supports that can help you navigate this journey. By 12 months of age, your child should start to achieve developmental milestones. By this time, some children may begin to show signs of autism and fail to appropriately develop communication skills. However, that’s still a bit early to reveal many symptoms of autism. Most children do not reveal obvious symptoms and are not diagnosed until they are over two-years-old.
Although people with ASD often struggle with social situations and social communication, we can build on these skills.
Symptoms of Autism
Autism is a complex disorder, and the symptoms can vary from person to person. Some common signs of autism include:
- Delayed language development
- Difficulty with social interaction and communication
- Repetitive behaviors and routines
- Difficulty with nonverbal communication, such as eye contact and facial expressions
- Unusual interests or fixations on specific objects or activities
The evaluation process for autism typically involves a comprehensive assessment by a team of professionals, including a pediatrician, psychologist, speech therapist, and occupational therapist. This team will consider your child’s development, behavior, and symptoms to determine if they meet the criteria for an autism diagnosis.
Getting an Evaluation from the School
In California, children with disabilities, including autism, may qualify for special education and related services at school. If you think your child may have autism, you can ask the school to do an evaluation through their “Child Find” program at no cost. If your child qualifies for special education, the school will develop an IEP to help them learn.
What to do if your child is denied Special Education Services
The Independent Education Evaluation (IEE)
In California, parents have the right to seek an Independent Educational Evaluation (IEE) if they disagree with the results of a school district’s evaluation or believe their child has been denied appropriate special education services. According to the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), parents have a fundamental right to participate in their child’s education and advocate for their needs (20 U.S.C. § 1415(b)(1)). If a dispute arises, parents may request an IEE at public expense (34 C.F.R. § 300.502(b)(1)).
California Education Code
These rights are further reinforced by the California Education Code (§ 56329(b)) and the California Code of Regulations (Title 5, § 3022). Upon receiving an IEE request, the school district must either agree to fund the evaluation or initiate a due process hearing to defend the appropriateness of its assessment (34 C.F.R. § 300.502(b)(2)).
As a parent, it is crucial to stay informed about your rights and be prepared to advocate for your child’s unique needs. For additional guidance and resources, consult the California Department of Education’s website (https://www.cde.ca.gov/sp/se/lr/om031121.asp) or the Disability Rights California website (https://www.disabilityrightsca.org).
Parent Rights & Resources
As a parent of a child with autism, you have certain rights and protections under the law. The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) is a federal law that guarantees a free and appropriate education for children with disabilities, including autism.
In California, the law is known as the Lanterman Developmental Disabilities Services Act. This law can be found at: https://www.dds.ca.gov/transparency/laws-regulations/lanterman-act-and-related-laws/
These laws guarantee your child’s right to a Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE). It means that your child is entitled to a public education that is free and appropriate. In other words, it’s about equitable access to learning.
They should have the same opportunities to access and benefit from their education, as their peers. If support is required to meet the child’s needs, it should be free.
Important Resources and Services
There are many resources available to help families of children with autism, including:
Autism Speaks: https://www.autismspeaks.org/
- This is a national advocacy organization that provides information and support to families of children with autism.
The Autism Society: https://www.autism-society.org/
- This is a national organization that provides resources and support to individuals with autism and their families.
Regional Centers: https://www.dds.ca.gov/RC/
- California has 21 regional centers that provide services and support to individuals with developmental disabilities, including autism.
Social Security Income (SSI): https://www.ssa.gov/disability/
- This is a federal program that provides financial assistance to individuals with disabilities, including autism.
In-Home Supportive Services (IHSS): https://www.cdss.ca.gov/in-home-supportive-services
- This is a program in California that provides in-home care to individuals with disabilities, including autism.
Therapies for Children with Autism
There are many types of therapies that can help children on their journey to build skills and reach milestones. These are just a few:
- Applied Behavioral Analysis (ABA): This is a therapy that uses positive reinforcement to encourage desired behaviors and reduce unwanted behaviors.
- Speech and Language Therapy: This therapy helps children improve their communication and language skills.
- Occupational Therapy: This therapy helps children with autism improve their fine motor skills and daily living skills.
- Play Therapy: This therapy uses play to help children with autism improve their social and emotional skills.
- Social Skills: Focusing on social skills, support can come in the form of at home 1-1 services, social skills support in the academic setting, and group sessions.
Being an Advocate for Your Child
As a parent of a child with autism, it is important to be an advocate for your child and to ensure that their rights are protected and that they receive the services and support they need. This may involve working with the school district, healthcare providers, and other organizations to ensure that your child’s needs are met.
Here are some tips for being a better advocate for your child with autism:
- Know your rights: Familiarize yourself with the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) and the Lanterman Developmental Disabilities Services Act, and understand your child’s right to a Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE).
- Get informed: Educate yourself about autism and the resources and services available to your child.
- Build a team: Work with a team of professionals, including a pediatrician, psychologist, speech therapist, and occupational therapist, to ensure that your child receives comprehensive care.
- Be proactive: Don’t wait for problems to arise – be proactive in advocating for your child’s needs and ensuring that they receive the services and support they need.
- Stay organized: Keep detailed records of your child’s evaluations, assessments, and services, and make sure that all important information is shared between members of your child’s care team.
If you suspect that your child may have autism, it is important to seek a professional evaluation. As a parent of a child with autism, you have the right to advocate for your child and to ensure that they receive the services and support they need. With the right support and resources, your child can thrive and reach their full potential.