My child just received a diagnosis of autism. How do I get support for him/ her at school?
The first step is to request a special education evaluation through public school. This request must be made in writing. The letter can be short and to the point, and should be delivered to the school principal or school psychologist. You can request this evaluation through the public schools even if your child is home-schooled or attends private school. The following is a basic template to use when writing a letter to request a special education evaluation for your child:
“To Whom It May Concern:
I would like to request a special education evaluation for my son, John Smith, Date of Birth (DOB) 2/2/2222. John recently received a diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Disorder at Seattle Children’s Hospital. Please see the attached report documenting the diagnosis.”
My child does not yet have a diagnosis of autism but we are in the process of being evaluated. Can I still request a special education evaluation at school?
Yes. Your child does not need a diagnosis in order to request a special education evaluation. You may make your request at any point if you believe your child may have a disability that is affecting his or her school performance. A letter for this type of situation (in which you don’t yet have a diagnosis) might say something like:
“To Whom It May Concern:
I would like to request a special education evaluation for my son, John Smith, DOB 2/2/2222, due to concerns regarding John’s difficulties in school. Specifically, John ____________ (fill in the blank with your specific concerns).”
What happens after I request a special education evaluation?
In Washington State, the school then has 25 school days to determine whether or not they will evaluate your student for special education eligibility. The school team will review records, talk with your child’s teachers, and gather other relevant information to determine whether an evaluation would be appropriate. If the school team does decide to evaluate your child, they then have 35 school days to complete the evaluation. This process can take several months or longer, so it is important to request the evaluation as soon as you receive a diagnosis or have concerns that your child may need special education.
Will my child automatically qualify for special education with an autism diagnosis?
No. Many children with Autism Spectrum Disorder do receive special education services through the public schools. However, it is important to note that just because your child has a diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Disorder, this does not necessarily guarantee that he or she will qualify for special education. That is because, in order to qualify for special education, the child must meet 3 conditions:
- The child must have a disability. There are 13 categories of disability in Washington State, of which Autism is one. So, if your child has an ASD diagnosis, he or she would meet criteria, but would need to also meet the 2 following criteria in order to qualify.
- The child must have an adverse educational impact as a result of his or her disability. Schools and districts may interpret this one in different ways, but in general, in order to demonstrate an “adverse educational impact”, the child must be having difficulty accessing the general education curriculum as a result of his or her disability.
- The child must require specially designed instruction. This one, like #2 above, also may vary somewhat from district to district, but in general, to meet this requirement, a child must require instruction that is individualized and specific to their learning needs, and different from the general education curriculum that most students receive.
What happens after the school team wraps up the evaluation?
You will be invited to a meeting at the school where the school team (which includes parents) will discuss the results. At this meeting, the team will inform you whether or not your child qualifies for special education services. If your child does not qualify, it is possible that he or she may instead be eligible for what’s called a “504 Plan”, which means he or she would receive accommodations and modifications within the regular classroom. If your child does qualify for special education, then you will begin the IEP (Individualized Education Program) process.
See our blog Preparing for Your Child’s IEP Meeting for information on what to expect.
What can I do to help facilitate the special education evaluation for my child?
First, provide as much information as you can to the school team about your concerns. Second, be sure to share any reports you have (e.g. from a psychologist, speech therapist, occupational therapist) with the school team. Third, remember that you are part of your child’s school team and that you are your child’s best advocate!
My child is not yet old enough for school. When can I request an evaluation?
Now! Because research has shown how important early intervention is for children with autism and other developmental delays, it’s a good idea to request an evaluation as soon as you have concerns. Children under age 3 with developmental delays are served through early intervention programs (e.g. “Birth to 3” centers such as Boyer in Seattle or Kindering in Bellevue). Preschool age children with developmental delays would participate in developmental preschool where they would receive a range of interventions depending on their individual needs, such as speech/language therapy or occupational therapy. Once your child is ready for kindergarten, he or she would transition from developmental preschool to special education kindergarten. Your child’s primary care physician is a good first person to speak with about your concerns.
Please see our blog Preschool to Kindergarten- The Transition IEP Meeting for more information about the transition from developmental preschool to kindergarten.