student success

With the Right Team of Adults Behind Her, My Autistic Child Is Killing It at School

Nationwide, health coverage for autism-related services is seriously lacking. In my home state of Illinois, advocates are pushing newly elected Governor Pritzker to expand Medicaid coverage for early intervention therapies for children with autism. Research shows that early intervention can make a remarkable difference in children’s academic outcomes. This was also the case in our family. My brilliant, beautiful, hilarious, autistic child is now 6 years old and in the first grade. The anxiety around her special needs at school, and her disabilities still levels me, emotionally, spiritually and physically but recently we had some wonderful news, and I know exactly what it took to get us to this point. Since she was 3-years-old, we have been working with our local public school to make sure we are all on the same page about her needs and what accommodations she needed to be successful. It has been a long journey. There were tears, arguments, lawyers, meditators, trainings, therapy (for us parents), and finally, a good team. And thanks to all that hassle, the good team is working. It’s report card time here, and we got great news: my daughter has all As and is scoring above norms in the national standardized tests, for her school, state and the nation. Further, she is able to participate in academic accelerated courses with her neurotypical peers. I know that grades and test scores do not give an accurate picture of a child’s intelligence or potential. However, for parents of children with disabilities, grades and test scores can be important “proof” of two things:
  1. Our children can function and thrive in school.
  2. School is effectively supporting our children to learn.
At age 3, my daughter was mostly non-verbal and scoring well below every developmental test. We fought and worked hard with the school on very intense early interventions, both at school and at home through our private insurance. However, because the majority of my daughter’s time is spent in school, we knew the majority of the interventions and services needed to be at school. When she first started school, she had no accommodations. Fast forward to today, and she has an all-star team of adults behind her: special education director, speech and occupational therapists, social worker, paraprofessional, school psychologist and her primary teacher. Every part of the team is valued. At home, we constantly reinforce what she is learning at school. Her primary teacher has stated that without her one-on-one aide, or any of the vital members of her team, my daughter would not be able to function in a traditional school with her non-disabled peers. It is because of the work of her all-star special education team, and their ability to communicate with one another, with us, and with her private providers, that my daughter is thriving academically and socially at school.

I Didn’t Know What My Daughter Was Capable of Until Her Team Showed Me the Possibilities

Of course I am proud that my daughter is thriving academically. But the truth is, when my non-disabled daughter entered school, I assumed all my children would be academically successful. And she was. When my second daughter started school, I didn’t understand disabilities or autism. When we received her diagnosis, I was scared that she wouldn’t be able to do basic things. I thought there was no possibility of her being academically gifted and thanks to God, I have been proven wrong. [pullquote position="left"]This is what success looks like for my child right now. With all children, disabled and non-disabled, their academic and social needs change. But, for children with autism and disabilities, having an early intervention plan, an engaged school team, and great communication ongoing between the family and school, can produce academic success. Without any one of those factors, I have no doubt, my daughter would not have the same academic success. But this is not just about my child; it is about all children with disabilities and our expectations and belief about their potential in schools. Early intervention, strong school supports, and engaged parent involvement are key to inclusion and success for disabled children. But, first we must believe that disabled children, and all children, can be successful in any school.
ShaRhonda Knott-Dawson
ShaRhonda Knott-Dawson is the mother of two free-spirited, strong-willed girls and has a husband who should be appointed a saint for co-existing in the madness that is their life. She writes on politics, education, current events and social justice. She is also a taco enthusiast, a proud member of the Bey-hive, and truly believes that she will be receiving her letter from Hogwarts any day now.

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