Special Education for Children with Autism

Autism Lawyers

Representing Clients in New York & Nationwide

If you are a parent or guardian of a child with autism or on the autism spectrum, you understand the challenges your child faces, but also your child’s potential to achieve when proper services are provided. However, you may have trouble with a school district that fails to recognize your child's potential or fails to take the necessary steps to ensure your child receives the education he or she deserves.

This page provides some background for parents, but every child is unique, and to really understand the legal issues and options applicable to your child's situation, it is best to discuss the situation. Goldstein, Ackerhalt & Pletcher, LLP offers free consultations for parents of children with autism.  Please contact us today to schedule your free consultation.

Challenging an Evaluation or Identification

One of the first problems you may face with your school district is its identification of your child's disability. IDEA defines autism as:

A developmental disability significantly affecting verbal and nonverbal communication and social interaction, generally evident before age three, which adversely affects a child's educational performance. Other characteristics often associated with autism are engagement in repetitive activities and stereotyped movements, resistance to environmental change or change in daily routines, and unusual responses to sensory experiences.

This functional definition includes all autism spectrum disorders, including Asperger's Syndrome and other pervasive developmental disorders. It is a much shorter and generalized version of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM IV) classification, and some of your dispute may come from the difference in language.

If you disagree with your school district's evaluation of your child, you are entitled by IDEA to an independent education evaluation of your child, possibly at public expense. In this event, we can assist and counsel you, and can also represent you in a hearing to ensure an appropriate classification and IEP for your child.

Resolving IEP Issues

Regardless of the educational methodology needed by your child (e.g. Applied Behavioral Analysis (ABA); Greenspan (floor time); Tomatis; Ziggurat; customized), your child has the right to have his or her unique needs met. To ensure your child gets the free appropriate public education (FAPE) to which he or she is entitled, it is crucial that you and your school district agree to an appropriate individualized education program (IEP), and that the district follows through with all the terms of the IEP. Sometimes, this can be problematic because of the unique challenges presented by autism spectrum disorders. Your school district may have preconceived notions about what autism means, and how to address it, that may not be appropriate for your particular child.

We can attend IEP meetings with you to help communicate your concerns about your child's needs to the school district. If necessary, we can help you pursue due process and represent you in front of an impartial hearing officer (IHO).  If necessary, we also provide representation for appeals and for lawsuits in court.

Discipline Issues for Children on the Autism Spectrum

Your child with autism is probably typically very well behaved as long as he or she is treated properly, but may have a disproportionate response when inappropriately expected to change tasks, perform an unpleasant task or when perturbed by other students at school. Unfortunately, sometimes a school district may respond in an equally disproportionate and unhelpful way, often with a suspension. We can attend a disciplinary hearing with you and help you defend against punishments that will not help correct your child's behavior, but only hurt their education.” Needs to read “We can attend a disciplinary hearing with you and help you defend against punishments that will not help correct your child's behavior, but only hurt his or her education. Likewise, we can represent you at a manifestation meeting to limit any suspensions and, if necessary, represent you in a due process hearing to challenge a school district finding of “no manifestation.”

Looking at the Big Picture for Children with Autism

To determine what is appropriate for a given child with autism, it is often helpful to take a long-term look down the road. Since each child is unique, the child’s strengths, weaknesses, goals and interests should be considered. Further, what is the child’s realistic potential: a post-secondary experience, competitive employment, supported employment, independent living or supported living in the community, etc.? Knowing the life goal(s) for a child help to focus what is an appropriate IEP, since annual IEPs can be viewed as the building blocks to life after school.

If you are having a dispute with your school district over any aspect of your child's education, the attorneys at Goldstein, Ackerhalt & Pletcher, LLP can help you in your efforts to resolve the dispute, often at little or no cost to you.  Please call or email us today for a free initial consultation.