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Sunday, August 8, 2010

Schools and Older HFA Students

Schools have a difficult time coping when HFA students reach adolescence. Chantal Lovell reports at the Redlands [CA] Daily Facts:

"Teachers in high school have been fostered to teach independence, but our kids just don't have those organizations skills," said Beth Burt, president of the Autism Society of America, Inland Empire. "A child can do all the work and then forget to turn it in."

The district does not have a classroom or program specifically dedicated to older, higher functioning students with autism, but offers support services based on individual need, said Cheryl Sjostrom, RUSD [Redlands Unified School District} director of special services.

"Special education is not placement," Sjostrom said. "It's supports and services so that a child can access the curriculum. When we start looking at those supports and services, it's so individualized based on individual needs."

She said the district's philosophy, which is based on research and expert advice, is to educate students in general education classrooms when possible and add support as needed. That can include therapy, an aide and other services.

Other area districts share that philosophy and educate in the same way, said East Valley Special Education Local Plan Area administrator Anita Ruesterholtz. Meeting the individual needs of the students is the way most local schools tackle special education because students with autism are very different from one another.

"The least restrictive environment is when they can access the general education curriculum in a general education program with supports and services," Sjostrom said. "From there, you start working into more restrictive (learning environments), if they're not able to do that."

Sjostrom said her department is in the process of visiting other districts to learn from their programs, but autism education for middle and high schoolers is hard to find.

"The school systems really aren't adapted to meet the needs of students with autism," Burt said. "This is kind of a new-age range and they haven't had the time to develop programs for them."

See a 2009 Washington Post article on a related topic.