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ESY For Children With Autism

If you have a child who is anywhere on the autism spectrum, you know (or will soon know) how frustrating and difficult it can be to ensure your child is getting the “free and appropriate public education” (FAPE) they are entitled to by law. It can be equally frustrating, as a parent, to find yourself constantly fighting to be treated as an equal partner within your child’s “team.” To ensure your child gets the education they deserve, it is important that you familiarize yourself with the Individual with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) and all of its components (Including ESY), with your state’s special education laws and precedents, and with your school district’s specific policies. The more you know, the more effectively you will be able to use the resources available to you by law.

A Mother and his children do some discussion

The Individual with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) was signed into law in 1994 and revised most recently in 2004. IDEA is built on two requirements.

  1. Each and every child is entitled to a “free and appropriate public education” (FAPE).
  2. Every child is entitled to be educated in the “least restrictive environment.” (LRE)

Both of these requirements are missing strict guidelines thus, each state has, over the years, developed its own guidelines which are determined by various cases brought on by the state supreme court. One thing that unifies FAPE and LRE across the states is the determination that each child is an individual and has the right to be educated according to their specific needs.

In order to understand what FAPE and LRE mean in your own state and school district, it is a good idea to become familiar with case histories in your state. When you find a case that is particularly pertinent to your child’s autism and educational needs, it is a good idea to print out a case summary and keep it in your child’s “Individual Education Plan” (IEP) – more on this in a bit – to help educate and influence the IEP team. A great place to get information about special education law is the Wrightslaw  website. There, you will find simple explanations of laws as well as links to specific case law in every state.

Finally, it’s important to know who you will be working with in your own school district. Read the school’s website, talk to teachers, counselors and other professionals who work at your child’s school. It’s never too early to start a file containing your child’s information, Keep duplicates of medical records, testing results, progress reports, past IEP’s, etc. Try to remember that you are your child’s advocate, not the school’s adversary. Advocating for your child is your job. Deal with the school in a professional, friendly manner. Keep in mind that while most all of the professionals involved in special education at your child’s school mean well, they are not legal experts. It is common for parents to receive inaccurate information from school staff. Do your own research!

An element of IDEA that many parents are unaware of and that many educators are under-informed about is “Extended School Year“ (ESY). ESY was put into place for children who are at risk of losing skills during breaks from school – short and long breaks. ESY is not summer camp. ESY is not intended to help children gain skills. ESY is to prevent children from regressing or from missing breakthrough moments in their learning. ESY is for children with severe disabilities and for those who are high functioning. The key to the extended school year, is that it has to be incorporated into your child’s IEP each and every year. If you think your child will lose skills or be harmed by lack of services during school breaks, you should introduce the idea of ESY at the first meeting of your child’s IEP team each school year.

ESY services vary from school district to school district. Additionally, ESY does not benefit every child. It is your job as a parent to determine if your local ESY program will be a good fit for your child. If the school denies ESY or if you think the services they offer will not help your child, don’t despair! There are plenty of special education resources available online to help you help your child.

Additionally, you can learn from homeschoolers – many of whom are teaching their special needs children at home. Take advantage of the free special education homeschool resources out there if your school district is not meeting your child’s needs. Yes, it is work on your part. BUT, ESY is a year-by-year service. If you don’t get it one year, you can reintroduce your concerns the following year if you truly think ESY would help your child.

If you are not confident in your ability to work with your child at home, look into special education tutoring. In certain instances, your state may reimburse you for this optimized one-on-one tutoring. Depending on your child’s needs, one-on-one guidance from a special education expert can make a massive impact! Sometimes (I would argue a majority of the time), it’s not your child fault they’re falling behind… it’s the inability of the school to teach them in the way they need to be taught. From budget issues, to teacher shortages… most schools around the country are in trouble. However… that’s an entirely different post!

One last thing about special needs tutoring; this option may actually help your school district fulfill their legal requirements while giving your child the directed attention they need.

You will find that using a multitude of resources – home, privately sourced and public – will give your child with autism the best bet at receiving the education that best fits their needs. By being as friendly and positive as you can be, while also being open to unconventional approaches, you’ll discover surprising depths of ability in yourself and in your child. You’re not in this fight alone. The faster you realize that thousands of other families deal with the same issue, the quicker you will uncover assistance that works for your child. Success is the goal.