We read your recent article (“Studying changes in autism services,” April 28) with great interest. As special education advocates, we are frequently hired by parents of children in need of special education services.
As the article notes, there has been a dramatic increase in the diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder (ASD). The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently released data suggesting the prevalence of autism in children could be as high as 1 in 50.
There are many interventions known to be highly effective in mediating the difficulties associated with autism. In our experience, a handful of school districts in Massachusetts have built effective ASD programs. Most have not. As a result, most children with ASD are grossly underserved.
In 2006, the state of Massachusetts passed Chapter 57, which states that the child’s team must consider very specific areas related to autism: social skills, bullying prevention, behavioral interventions, and more. Schools often view an ASD diagnosis as a “medical report” that has little bearing on a child’s education. The fact is special education law stipulates that schools must address the social and emotional needs of children — often the area of greatest weakness in those with ASD. This means that educators are supposed to view these children through a wider lens than the one that just sees the child taking a math test. Their view must expand to consider the child on the playground, in the lunchroom, and in afterschool programs.
Parents know their child best and, according to the law, their viewpoint must be thoroughly considered by the school. By understanding their child’s needs and by bringing the right professionals to the table, parents can make an enormous difference in the education that their child receives.