As the parent of a student with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), you sit down each year with a group of professionals to craft the Individual Education Program (IEP), a document that focuses on the goals you would like your child to achieve over the next year. But it could and should do more than that. Widening the focus of the IEP beyond annual goals can help create a path to the future for each child.
By the time your child graduates or ages out of the school system, he or she will need to have already learned skills that will not just benefit him or her in a school setting, but will carry over to the workplace and the rest of his or her adult life. Even in elementary school, it is important to be thinking about designing a plan that can maximize your child’s abilities in multiple settings, not just the classroom. Here are four tips for writing an IEP that will assist your child in the transition to adulthood and employment:
- Include your child in the IEP. Every student should be given the opportunity to contribute to creating and presenting the IEP. This will look different depending on the needs and ages of each child. For younger students, this may involve spending time with their teacher to express via words or pictures what they are interested in learning. It could also include the student coming to the IEP meeting for a short period to share some of the work they have mastered (known as “Present Level of Performance”), be introduced to the rest of the IEP team, and perhaps have a snack. This will help them build confidence in increased involvement in the IEP as they age. Older students may share a PowerPoint or other type of presentation about their strengths and needs and a summary of the goals and accommodations they would like to work on. They may even lead their own IEP process with a teacher’s guidance. Any time a student is present at an IEP meeting, parents and team members should address the student directly rather than talk about them.
- Write self-determination goals. IEP domains often include academic areas, behavior, communication, and social goals. Another domain that should be considered is self-determination. Self-determination goals help children express their wants and needs and ensure that their voice is heard. For younger children, this might be learning to say “no” to something they don’t want to do, instead of reacting in an unexpected manner. For older students, it could include learning to explain their disability and what accommodations they require. A resource for writing self-determination goals is the I’m Determined project.
- Consider accommodations that will assist your child in becoming more independent. Employers need workers who can do their jobs as independently as possible. Although many adults with autism may be able to access the services of a job coach when they begin a new job, many others cannot. Either way, it is imperative that students learn to access accommodations that they can use into adulthood. This may be using a smart phone app for scheduling, utilizing a task analysis, and fading prompts to the least intrusive method.
- Develop a meaningful transition plan. IEP teams must include a transition plan as part of the IEP no later than age 16. (Some states and school systems mandate them at an earlier age.) When there is a transition plan, the IEP team should devote a substantial amount of time to it so that it accurately reflects the aspirations of the student once they leave high school. It should include goals related to daily life, career, and other aspects of transition, such as transportation and leisure skills. A team may want to include person-centered long-term planning templates, such as PATH and MAP, to help guide them in helping your child to express his or her individual dreams and goals for the future. The I’m Determined project and A Person-Centered Arizona offer resources that can help you with those templates. In addition, you can refer to OAR’s Guide for Transition to Adulthood.
It is imperative that you, as a parent, begin planning for your child’s future as early as possible. Using these tips will help ensure that the entire IEP team is considering not just your child’s needs for the coming year but for life.
Deborah Hammer is an autism specialist in the Arlington (Virginia) Public Schools, where she provides training and support to staff, students, and parents. She is co-chair of the Northern Virginia Transition Coalition and serves on the Fairfax Area Disability Services Board. She is the founder of Cool Aspies, a social group for young adults with ASD.