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5 Things that Parents of Children with Autism Need to Know About Education and the Workplace .

  1. Children with disabilities have educational rights under the Individuals with Disabilities in Education Act:


The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) is a law that makes available a free appropriate public education (FAPE) to eligible children with disabilities throughout the nation and ensures special education and related services to those children. 


The purpose of the IDEA is to ensure that children have an appropriate opportunity, equal to their abilities, to learn and gain a FAPE that will prepare them for future education, employment and independent living.

The IDEA is also designed to ensure that the rights of children with disabilities and parents of such children are protected; to assist States, localities, educational service agencies, and Federal agencies to provide for the education of all children with disabilities; to assist States in the implementation of a statewide, comprehensive, coordinated, multidisciplinary, interagency system of early intervention services for infants and toddlers with disabilities and their families; to ensure that educators and parents have the necessary tools to improve educational results for children with disabilities by supporting system improvement activities; coordinated research and personnel preparation; coordinated technical assistance, dissemination, and support; and technology development and media services; to assess, and ensure the effectiveness of, efforts to educate children with disabilities.

2.     Navigating the IDEA can be difficult and parents need to understand what an Individualized Education Program (IEP) is:

An Individualized Education Program (IEP) is a program tailored to meet the individual needs of the student, based on their abilities. The IEP is designed to ensure that the student is able to make meaningful progress in their education based on their abilities and not the abilities of their classmates who do not have disabilities. The program, sometimes called the plan, is written in collaboration between the child’s school district (teacher, program director, principal, etc), the child’s parents and sometimes the child themselves.

The IEP is a very important legal document for the student and their parents. This plan will include goals and expected progress, as well as will list what tools and supports are needed to help the child reach their educational goals. The IEP is not intended to be a daily instructional plan, but a big picture overview of the student’s special needs.

The purpose of the IEP is to make sure the student has measurable goals to reach, and ensure they can get the special services they need, according to the law. But the overall purpose of the program should be to integrate the special education student into general education. The heart of the IEP should be to access to the curriculum so that the students are able to make the equivalent progress as their peers.


3.     The ADA offers federal protections for people with disabilities in the workplace.

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities in several areas, including employment, transportation, public accommodations, communications and access to state and local government’ programs and services. As it relates to employment, Title I of the ADA protects the rights of both employees and job seekers.

The ADA will be very important to people with disabilities and parents of children with disabilities should start to make themselves knowledgeable of the protections for people with disabilities in employment under Title I of the ADA.

Title I of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 prohibits private employers, state and local governments, employment agencies and labor unions from discriminating against qualified individuals with disabilities in job application procedures, hiring, firing, advancement, compensation, job training, and other terms, conditions, and privileges of employment. The ADA covers employers with 15 or more employees, including state and local governments.

Title I of the ADA also defines an individual with a disability as a person who has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities; has a record of such an impairment; or is regarded as having such an impairment.

A qualified employee or applicant with a disability is defined as an individual who, with or without reasonable accommodation, can perform the essential functions of the job in question. Reasonable accommodation may include, but is not limited to: making existing facilities used by employees readily accessible to and usable by persons with disabilities.; job restructuring, modifying work schedules, reassignment to a vacant position; acquiring or modifying equipment or devices, adjusting or modifying examinations, training materials, or policies, and providing qualified readers or interpreters.

Employers are required to make a reasonable accommodation to the known disability of a qualified applicant or employee if it would not impose an "undue hardship" on the operation of the employer's business. Reasonable accommodations are adjustments or modifications provided by an employer to enable people with disabilities to enjoy equal employment opportunities. Accommodations vary depending upon the needs of the individual applicant or employee and they do cover employers with intellectual disabilities.  Not all people with disabilities (or even all people with the same disability) will require the same accommodation and that is important for people with disabilities to understand when they are seeking employment opportunities.

4.     Reasonable accommodations in the workplace can assist people with autism.

A reasonable accommodation is a change in the work environment (or in the way things are usually done). The process applies to all aspects of employment, from hiring to orientation and training to workplace events and activities. The purpose is to help a qualified individual with a disability apply for a job, perform the duties of a job, and enjoy the benefits and privileges of employment. Accommodations can include modification of work schedule or policy; physical changes to workspace; equipment and devices; job restructuring; adjustment of supervisory methods; and job coaching.

The employment aspects of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA, Title I) state that employers are required to make reasonable accommodations for an employee with a disability, as long as the accommodation does not pose an “undue hardship” to the employer. Factors considered under hardship include the nature and cost of the accommodation, resources and size of the business, type of business – composition, functions, workforce structure, impact the accommodation would have on the facility and business as a whole.

Reasonable accommodation does not require lowering performance standards or removing essential functions of the individual’s job. An employee can request an accommodation at any time but knowing how to ask for an accommodation can be key to its success.

Sometimes, a less formal inquiry may serve the purpose. According to the law, you only have to let your employer know that you need an adjustment or change at work for a reason related to a medical condition. Keep it simple, yet clear, and functional.

Accommodations should be developed in a spirit of collaboration with employers. Think of it as a joint problem-solving exercise with many possible solutions to any one issue. The ADA refers to this as the “interactive process.” Be proactive. Don’t expect employers to know all the answers. Explain needs and solutions clearly, respond to concerns, answer questions, and provide information. The best accommodations are those that include the opinions and ideas of the employee when it comes to what they need to be successful in the workplace. This is particularly true for people with autism or any intellectual disability because the needs of the employee are not as visual or physical or intuitive as other disabilities may often be.

People with disabilities need to be comfortable advocating for themselves in the workplace and they often may need the support of their families or other resources in order to articulate these needs to their employer. People with disabilities should not be afraid to ask for their third part supports as part of their accommodation process.

5.     Preparation in key! Start preparing teens with autism for work opportunities early.

Make sure that teens are thinking early about what their interests are. Finding work opportunities that a teen with autism is interested in or that connects to their natural interests is key to their comfort and success in the workplace.

Also, researching employers and work environments, their policies and past success accommodating workers with intellectual disabilities will help to ensure success in the workplace for people with autism.


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