The Graduation Struggles in Autism Education

For most parents, graduation is a common occurrence. Children grow up, complete their natural development and milestones and move on to the next step in their path. For parents of children with autism it is not that easy. Graduation time is always stressful, emotional and expensive. It is a time where a parent is reminded that the security and the safety of their child’s placement is coming to an end, and the emotional rollercoaster is about to begin.

Phase I: In the early years 0-3, Early Intervention is offered to those individuals who are identified as delayed. These services are extremely parent friendly. Most parents in this stage are trying to understand the initial shock of their new reality. They are assigned to a service coordinator whose job is to assist the parents in everything that they need to know, do or say to maximize the potential affectedness of the services provided. The parent can choose agencies, providers, location and decide the extent of personal involvement in the program. In addition, these services are free of charge and providers for this age group are usually highly qualified since financially it is the most lucrative age group to service.

Phase II: The second shock comes at the turning 3 review where a parent understand that the hand holding of the Early Intervention program is no longer available and that they are now their child’s advocate. Since state approved non public day cares are available they have to go on school visits, communicate with a district administrator, and try to “beat the rush”, of the limited spaces that are available for their children. In addition, home services that are so commonly provided in previous years have to be justified with a rational and are at times taken away based on the child’s school program recommendation and developmental delays. Providers for this age group are more difficult to find since the reimbursement rate is lower and the services are mostly done after school. At this time some parents choose to retain a lawyer, advocate or consultant to help them.

Phase II: The third shock is when a child ages out of a preschool state approved program and is recommended for placement in a small classroom ratio in a public school or at times referred to Central Based Support Team. This is, in my experience, emotionally, financially, and socially the most difficult of the stages. The parent now understands the needs of their special needs child and at times feels like the given recommendation does not provide appropriate education. Since outside services are more limited the program placement is crucial and the spaces are limited. Parents struggle to find a school that provides their child with a safe and secure environment while teaching them the skills that they need to learn. Parents like soldiers fight in every way they can to get the services they believe their child needs, at times they succeed on their own, but unfortunately many times they need a full army.

The rest of the phases are individualized based on the location and path that the parents choose. It is important for parents to understand that they are powerful and that their words count. As the Educational Director of Shema Kolainu, I find myself faced with parents in all three phases on a regular basis. I recognize the fire in their eyes and the determination to insure that their “babies” will continue to reach their full potential. I wanted to thank all of the parents out there that struggle each day and continue to fight for their children.

Graduation time can be difficult and draining, it can be a reminder of all the struggles that are to come, but it should also be a celebration of all the success that we have accomplished. I wanted to personally honor those parents who moved through the phases and successfully provided a safe, secure and educationally significant environment for their children. Specifically, I want to thank the families that through the years allowed Shema Kolainu to be the environment of their choice and congratulate them on all their victories.

Gili Rechany MA, SBL, BCBA, Board Certified Behavior Analyst, Educational Director of Shema Kolainu-Hear Our Voices