How Parents Can Advocate For An Autistic Child At School
Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) often need additional support as they progress through the school environment. Every situation is different and there is no one size fits all approach for families, teachers and administrators to work from when supporting children through their educational journey.
Parents can play a vital role when it comes to supporting their children with ASD during their school years. This role involves advocating for the child to ensure that their school experience is supportive of their unique needs and these needs are reinforced with the specific equipment and assistance required to encourage their success.
Navigating the administrative structure of the Canadian school system can appear complicated as a parent of a young child with ASD who is entering school for the first time or recently received a diagnosis. This article will outline some of the challenges ahead, and provide advice and tips for making sure the school experience is as positive as possible for your child.
Understand Your Child’s Rights
The Human Rights Code Of Canada states that every person has a right to a fair education based on their individual needs. A child with ASD deserves every opportunity to achieve educational success with whatever support is required to aid this journey. It is important for parents to investigate and familiarize themselves with these rights and other jurisdictions that schools in your province are subject to. This will help a parent advocate for their child within the school system.
Schools receive additional funding for any child with special needs, and parents can request and direct how this funding is spent. This could involve learning equipment, additional assistance from learning support staff, and more.
The school may require official assessments and recommendations in order to provide the additional services requested, so it is beneficial for parents to also understand how to source this information. This will be explained in further detail later in his article.
Integrate Therapy Resources
For a child with ASD, therapy and education should be viewed as different elements within the same learning ecosystem. The child’s therapists can be a wealth of information when it comes to recommending the type of support the child will require at school. They can also reinforce and support the child’s education within their therapy sessions.
When there is communication between school and therapy, these professionals can work together to encourage a child’s success. The parent’s role is to provide a bridge between therapists and educators to promote productive communication. The therapist’s Ables report is based on progressional data from the child’s sessions and can be a helpful tool for the child’s learning support staff at school. These reports can also reinforce the need for additional support during case conferences and when requesting these services.
Make The Most Out Of Case Conferences
Every child with special needs entering school will receive a case conference between their parents, teacher, and principal. This is a meeting designed to discuss the child’s needs and how the school can accommodate them. This session is a great opportunity for parents of children with ASD to highlight how their child’s ASD affects their social and learning skills, and what their unique needs are. It is also a chance to build a positive relationship with the school personnel to ease any future issues.
Many parents do not initially realize that these conferences do not need to be a one-off session. Further conferences must be obliged by the school throughout the learning year if the parent wishes to discuss their child’s progression, resolve any issues, or if the need for additional support has been revealed.
Case conferences can be viewed as a chance to support integration with therapy. The child’s curriculum can be requested and passed to the therapy team to ensure school learning and key skills are reinforced in therapy where required. Having visibility of the curriculum can be helpful for parents to assist children to continue their learning in the home environment too.
Introduce Yourself To The School Board Trustee
School board trustees are locally elected members of the school board. They are accountable to their electorate, the Province, and the Ministry of Education. By law, the trustee is required to consult with parents regarding student wellbeing and achievement, and advocate on behalf of community members with schools, and the school board.
Your local trustee is a great resource should any issues with the school arise, and if any requirements for your child reveal the need for practical educational responsibilities to benefit students. The trustee is instrumental in developing policies to support students and ensure they are carried out effectively.
Making contact with the school trustee via a friendly email or call is a good policy in case you need their help in the future. Should this time come, the trustee will already be aware of your family and child’s unique circumstances because of the friendly relationship you have developed.
Develop A Community
Although the needs of children with ASD are unique to each child, there are likely to be other children with alternative needs within the school your child will be attending. The parents of these children are likely to have shared many of your experiences navigating the school system, and can be a source of help and advice in terms of getting the most support available. Reaching out to other special needs parents that can provide friendship, and support can be beneficial in many ways.
The parents of other children in your child’s class can also be a good resource. It can be challenging for children with ASD to fit in and socialize in the same way as other children, so advocating to resolve these issues can also aid the transition into school life. Parents can reach out, and build friendships with other parents to promote conversations around inclusivity in the home. If the other children in your child’s class are encouraged to be sensitive to your child’s communication preferences and needs from the beginning, there are less likely to be as many challenges.
Raising awareness through community events for parents and children, such as reading inclusive stories to the class, or organizing a day out to get to know other parents can go a long way.
Make an IPRC Meeting Request
The IPRC is a committee that decides whether a school-attending child should be identified within the ‘exceptional’ category (requiring additional support) in line with the Ministry Of Education guidelines. The IPRC stands for the following:
- Identification: To identify students that require special education programs to assist with behavioural, communication, intellectual, and physical difficulties.
- Placement: To decide which special education placement (regular or special education classroom)) exceptional students would benefit from.
- Review: Exceptional student’s special education needs must be reviewed by the committee once per school year. The parent can request a review meeting of placement decisions after 3 months of placement.
- Committee: The committee comprises at least 3 individuals, one of which will be a school principal or supervisory member of the school board.
An IPRC meeting can be a valuable tool for parents advocating for their child as this is an official process that will inform the school of the necessity for additional equipment and support. If A parent submits a written request for an IPRC meeting to the principal, this request must be fulfilled.
During the meeting, the committee will be presented with information about the child and their unique requirements. Parents are encouraged to participate in presenting this information as they are the experts in their child’s needs and abilities. Special education staff from the school may also be invited to attend, and parents are welcome to suggest additional representatives from their child’s therapy team that can provide further information and clarification. Parents are also welcome to bring someone to support them or speak on their behalf if necessary.