I am often asked about autism assessment, (in fact, two parents asked me the same question in the last week,) so I’m writing a blog post about it.
If your child is 3 or older, has not yet graduated from high school, and does not yet receive special education services on an Individualized Education Program (IEP), then you may request assessment from your school district, at no cost to you.
Even if your child already has a clinical or medical diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) you will still need an educational assessment to determine eligibility for special education services in school.
If your child already has an IEP for another disability, such as Speech-Language Impairment (SLI) or Specific Learning Disability (SLD), and autism has not been identified by the school, you may request a new assessment specifically to identify or rule out autism. When you consent to the assessment, if in the course of the evaluation the assessment team suspects another disability in addition to or instead of autism, they must also test for any and all suspected disabilities.
To get the ball rolling, I recommend that you write a letter to your school district requesting special education assessment for autism for your child. It’s a good idea to include your reasons for suspecting that your child may be on the autism spectrum. Take your letter to your school district’s special education office, (you can find the address and contact person on their website), and give them your letter formally requesting an autism assessment. Ask them to date stamp it with the date they received the letter and give you a copy of the date-stamped letter. This is just to make sure everyone remembers when you requested the assessment. If you have a report from your child’s pediatrician, a neurologist, or psychologist, or anyone who has already seen your child and either made a clinical diagnosis or recommended evaluation, bring it with you and let them make a copy for their file on your child. Everything will be confidential, and any information you can provide could be helpful in the school’s assessment.
Within 15 days of receiving your letter requesting assessment, the school district should do one of 2 things:
(A) they will provide you with an Assessment Plan outlining what is involved in the assessment process, for you to sign giving your consent for the assessment; or
(B) they will provide you with a reason why they are denying your request, in writing.
Usually school districts choose (A), but if they say no to assessment, they need to give you their reasons in writing. If you disagree, ask for a meeting to talk about it.
If they offer an Assessment Plan, sign and return it as soon as possible. You might also want to ask them to date stamp this form. Once the school district receives the signed Assessment Plan giving your permission to test, they will complete the assessment, and schedule an IEP meeting to share the results with you, within 60 days. If your child is found to be eligible for special education services, they will present an IEP plan outlining what services they will offer, and setting goals for the coming year.
In my experience, school districts want nothing more than to provide students with the services they need. They are on your side and want to work as a team with you to help your child succeed in school.
Some parents don’t want their child to be “labeled,” and that’s understandable. They want their child’s teachers to see them for the amazing kids they really are, not as disabled. It is every parent’s right to choose not to seek special education help, and if offered, parents may refuse services. However, think carefully about this decision. In my experience, special education “labels” are good for two things:
1.) Opening Doors to Services
You can’t get special education services individualized to your child’s unique strengths and needs without an IEP, and you can’t have an IEP without an identified, qualifying disability, or “label.”
2.) Opening Doors to Understanding
You want your teacher to see your child for who they are, who they really are, not their quirks or behaviors. If your child becomes overwhelmed at school and has a meltdown or outburst, and the teacher is not aware of their autism, the teacher may see them as a “behavior problem.” When teachers know about autism, they can start to look for ways to make school easier for your child with accommodations or modifications to the program if needed. It’s easier for teachers to understand your child’s behaviors when they understand your child’s disability.
If you still decide not to let your child be “labeled,” it is your right. However, if you don’t want the special services, then you won’t need the special education assessment.
Either way, stay in close communication with your child’s teacher (without stalking or monopolizing her time). Let the school know that you are there for your child, and that you value and appreciate teachers and the work they do for your child.