Q&A With Lisa: How do I get my child qualified for special ed?

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Q:

Dear Lisa,

“I suspect my child has autism or some related disability. He is in the early elementary years. How do I get my child qualified for Special Education services in public school and what do they offer?”

-Confused and Concerned in Texas

A:

Dear Confused and Concerned in Texas,

Thank you for asking this question that many others surely have as well. I will do my best to clarify the referral process from a parent’s perspective and possible services. However, you are always welcome to contact the campus Principal and/or the special education department of your current campus/district and present your question to them directly. Their response will give you an overview of the process which I will outline in this article through multiple resources and a flowchart.

Since you have mentioned that you suspect autism or some related disability, I have also included a resource that might help you to clarify your concerns in those terms if/when you do make the phone call to the local special education office.

Using a Checklist + Self Evaluation to Avoid Behavioral Difficulties

Combo Strategies for Academic Tasks

Since the inception of this blog, we have explored a variety of specific strategies. I encourage all educators and parents to be creative, and mix and match to best meet the individual needs of your child and/or student. In a previous blog, we learned that mini-maps can help to prevent behavioral difficulties related to academic tasks.

Boy doing homework

Often, teachers note that a common antecedent or trigger to behavioral difficulties is the presentation of academic tasks. The behaviors can range from a verbal protest to a meltdown when students feel overwhelmed by school work. The first question to ask, of course, is what is there about the work that makes the student feel so overwhelmed? Does the page look too busy? Is too much handwriting involved? Are there too many problems? Is it too difficult or too easy?

Three Steps to Recovery After a Meltdown

Recovery may involve time to do nothing at all. For some students the recovery phase involves a process that takes him or her from a semi-agitated state to a fully calm state.

child in class

Consider the following steps:

  1. Allow the student to engage in the highly preferred/calming activity without setting the timer until he/she appears to have recovered as fully as possible.
  2. Once he/she is calm, then set the timer for 5-6 minutes. If he/she remains calm and is able to transition to the next activity, then do so and watch for early signs of repeated escalation.
  3. If he/she requests more time [by giving the timer to the adult], then honor the request and set the timer for 3 or 4 more minutes. Continue until he/she no longer requests more time or staff feel she is ready for a positive transition to the next activity.

Once the person is fully recovered, then it might be possible to debrief and make a plan to prevent future escalation. Pictures and words can help to paint a clear picture and develop a workable plan.   

By Lisa Rogers

T-Chart

A T-Chart can be made by placing a line down the middle of a page and labeling the left and right side of the page according to acceptable and unacceptable behavior. The T-Chart is then used to clarify acceptable or desired behaviors versus unacceptable or undesired behaviors by listing those under each of the categories.

Empty Library With Arranged Tables And Chairs

I was visiting with a teacher about one of his high school students that was wreaking havoc with her profanity. They had many conversations with her and had a tried several other strategies, but the profanity continued to spew. I offered this as a possible strategy and the teacher immediately told me that she knows she is not supposed to say those words, but she just doesn’t care about that. He was trying to tell me that writing good words on one side of the T-chart and bad words on the other side was just too simple.

Supports for Sensory Processing Disorder and Issues with Touch

As with the senses of sight and hearing, sometimes one or more of the senses are either over- or under-reactive to stimulation. This is also true for the sense of touch. For some persons with an Autism Spectrum Disorder, certain textures feel uncomfortable or even painful. For these individuals, the idea of a hug or even accidentally brushing up against something may be highly stressful. In order to prevent this negative tactile experience, much energy and focus is spent avoiding situations that increase the likelihood of such events.

Painted hands for a border

Imagine lining up where there are others in front of you and behind you. The chances of being accidentally touched by either person may cause the simple act of lining up to be highly stressful and anxiety provoking. For individuals that do not like the feel of certain textures or things, parents and teachers may consider the following types of supports:

What Are School Accommodations and Modifications for Students with Asperger’s?

Some students with disabilities require accommodations or modifications to their educational program in order to participate in the general curriculum and be successful in school. Each child with autism or Asperger’s Syndrome is different and has their own unique needs. Parents will meet with school personnel in an ARD/IEP meeting to determine what accommodations and modifications should be implemented to best assist their child. It is imperative that parents and educators understand the difference between the two.

Portrait of schoolboy looking at camera at workplace with anothe

For many students with Asperger’s Syndrome, accommodations will be needed to access the curriculum and remain in the least restrictive environment. Accommodations (the HOW) can be made for any student. Students do not need to have a 504 plan or an IEP.

How to Help ASD Students Express Their Feelings and De-Escalate a Meltdown

Feelings Chart

If a student can express their inner feelings, then adults could help them prevent further escalation. This can be done by engaging the student in conversation about the problem, or beginning a calming activity. Often however, the student has difficulty expressing those feelings until it is too late. A feelings chart may be an effective visual support to help students express how they are feeling with or without using any words.

Feelings Chart in Class

In order for the feelings chart to be an effective strategy, students must understand the meaning of different feelings represented at each level. What does it mean to feel great versus having a problem?  Connecting meaning for each feeling may require direct instruction. Lessons to build this understanding can be done in a variety of ways, including the use of props or pictures of self or others.

How to Use a Checklist to Keep Students on Task

For some students, a simple checklist is all they need to get them started and keep them moving through academic activities. The following is an example of such a checklist:

1The checklist corresponds to the numbered folders. The student knows to complete the work in the four folders. After checking each number off, the student then has a few minutes to engage in a highly reinforcing activity.

Are You a Visual Thinker? Understanding the Difference between Visual and Auditory Input

Tools to Decrease Neurological Stress

How do we decrease neurological stress?  The following is an excerpt from my recent book titled “Visual Supports for Visual Thinkers: Practical Ideas for Students with ASDs and Other Special Educational Needs”

Visual processing

A research team funded by the National Institutes of Health found that, in people with autism, brain areas normally associated with visual tasks also appear to be active during language-related tasks. This provides evidence to explain a bias towards visual thinking that is common in those with autism.

Try this little activity: the following statement is about neurological processing. “Visual’s a strength, auditory ain’t.” As you say this, make goggles with your hands to cover your eyes. Then try saying it again while cupping your hands to make ear muffs over your ears. This little exercise will help your brain to remember a key statement about the preference for those with ASD for visual versus auditory learning. This understanding is the first step for taking a different course of action when responding to the behavior of those struggling with neurological stress.