The Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act (IDEA, 2004) requires a public education for all eligible children ages 3 through 21 in the least restrictive environment. Under IDEA, public schools are responsible for providing the necessary supports and services to ensure all students have access to an appropriate education that enables the student to make meaningful gains. The Individualized Education Program (IEP) process facilitates these requirements.
When your child is ready to enter kindergarten you will have a meeting with your school district’s committee on special education. This is often referred to as an IEP meeting, because the meeting is to write the IEP. States have different requirements for who will attend this meeting, but parents are always in attendance. Depending on your child’s needs, they may receive “related services” (speech, OT, PT), a 1-1 aide in a mainstream class (often referred to as a special education itinerant teacher or SEIT), may be placed in an integrated class that includes students with and without disabilities, may be placed in a special class for students with disabilities or may be placed in a school specifically for children with autism. Placement decisions are based on a variety of factors.
As a parent, it is important for you to play an active role at the IEP meeting. In addition to determining which type of classroom is best for your child, the committee will also set out specific goals for your child’s development that year. These are often referred to as the “IEP goals”. They should be specific and measurable. They will be updated each year.
An IEP is a legal contract between the school and your family. The school district is responsible for making sure your child has every opportunity to meet their IEP goals.
All children change and grow over time, including children with autism. If your child is placed in a special class for kindergarten it doesn’t mean he/she will be in a special class throughout elementary school.
School districts are not legally required to inform parents of all opportunities for special needs students. While you are 100% focused on your child, district administrators are focused on all the kids in the district as well as on the school budget. We always recommend talking to parents in your school district who have children with autism before your IEP meeting so you can learn what resources are available to your child. You can find these parents on social media or through your SEPTA.