Autism: Accommodations, IEPs and Education

Some children participate in regular classrooms for all or part of their school day.  Obtaining an IEP (Individualized Education Plan) or a Section 504 requires persistence and dedication, but school districts are required to provide a free education to students with disabilities, and in my opinion, are worth pursuing to ensure that a child with Autism receives the education with necessary accommodations.

Accommodations allow for individualized behavior management and adaptation.  

This can be a HUGE deal for kids on the Autism Spectrum to both improve social skills and learn in a challenging environment.  It allows a teacher or teacher’s aide to provide tools and resources for a student to help them cope with the vast array of situations that can occur in class.  Sometimes this involves headphones during tests, the ability to be pulled to a different table to journal, engage in a sensory activity, or for time extensions to complete required assignments.  Because Autism is a sensory processing disorder, triggers can pop up at any moment and the need for sensory relief occurs.  Stress balls, coloring, music, play dough, sand, drawing, the use of balance boards, being wrapped in a blanket, walking the length of the hallway – there are so many ways a child can find sensory relief – but an IEP guarantees the child the opportunity to do so.

It took several meetings at school for our family to even get to the IEP discussion table.  Our school district has been helpful and worked with us along this journey.  Because Curly behaves so well in class (“she is so sweet and quiet”), communicates so well with adults and often appears to be engaged in regular classwork and social activities – it has been challenging for everyone to get on the same page.  Our girl adopted excellent coping skills from the beginning of her schooling at age 3.  However, some of these coping skills began to affect her grades, and the accommodations she now receives has reduced her need to engage in those behaviors anymore.

We have seen a correlation between the accommodations being used with her and her reduction of stress and improvement of grades.  This is not just a teacher making things easier for her.  These accommodations allow her to perform well while being challenged – without overwhelming her senses.

The sensory overload that so many kids on the Autism Spectrum face within the classroom are barriers to their success.  The ability to reduce those barriers allows these kids to meet standards they are required to meet without pushing them further into their “world”.

We do still see that the transition from home to school and from school to home is extremely difficult for her.  She is terse, grumpy, easily agitated and often cries or yells within the hour before leaving for school and coming home from school.  These things are better when she has accommodations, and we have also been able to reduce the use of medication with her – but transitions are still very trying for her.  This is often when we can use our essential oils with her to help soothe the rough edges.  Music is another tool that works well for her to find some calm.  Routines and schedules are super important, too, even when she is irritated by them sometimes.

Identifying her challenges and finding ways to help her meet those challenges – not just eliminating all of them – will help her as she grows into adulthood.  But it is very much a one-step-forward-two-steps-back kind of process.  Her IEP and accommodations will only last for so long, and we have to continue to help her find ways to deal with the things that threaten to overwhelm and stress her to avoid shutdown.

One of the things I’d like to talk about next week is how to work with sensory issues.  Some of these things are fun – simple – and offer some short term relief when she needs it.  We are still new to this part, so I am going to share things I’ve found that we have tried, and what we think we might try…