A Parent's Guide to Autism Spectrum Disorders

Educating Kids with Autism Spectrum Disorders
Overview of the Major Teaching Methods

There are several methods of educating toddlers and children with autism spectrum disorders The most well-known, and researched, strategies include:

Some school districts will offer just one strategy. However, it is good to be familiar with all of them because some children may respond better to one than another. Some children may do best with a combination of methods. Also, be aware that the practitioners of one strategy may criticize those who use another method. Don't be afraid, as a parent, to do your own research and draw your own conclusions.

The National Research Council has published Educating Children with Autismchildren with autism, which identifies the features of an effective preschool and school program. The book also outlines the research behind different teaching methods. The Council makes a strong argument for beginning treatment as soon as an autism spectrum disorder is suspected. Effective educational programs should include a "minimum of 25 hours a week, 12 months a year" and "sufficient individualized attention," it wrote.

Regardless of which teaching strategy you choose, your child with autism spectrum disorder probably will benefit from physical, speech and occupational therapies at school. An occupational therapist can work on poor hand skills, along with the sensory problems commonly found in autistic spectrum disorders. Speech therapists address language skills, and physical therapists help youngsters with balance, coordination and motor skills.

Many parents say that some school districts do not automatically provide all the services a child needs. Parents often must ask and advocate for specific therapies, teaching methods and services in order to receive them.

Where to Find Your State's Early Intervention Program

In the United States, children with disabilities from birth to age 21 are entitled by law to receive a free, appropriate education. States offer free special education, speech therapy, occupational therapy and physical therapy to infants, toddlers, preschoolers and school-aged children who qualify.

Here is a list of state early intervention offices. You may contact your local office to refer your child for a free evaluation. In many communities, the Early Intervention Office can be reached by contacting the local school district, health department or developmental disability center. Parents can refer a school-aged child for special education testing and services by contacting the child's school.

You do not need to wait until your child receives a medical diagnosis in order to start the intervention process.