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Educating Children with Autism
dren with disabilities really fit the needs of children with these disorders. If a school psychologist with no experience or background in examining children with autism is called into the IEP hearings, can his or her contribution be considered of professional quality in developing a plan for this child? Similarly, are teachers trained in general special education techniques, but with no additional preparation regarding children with autistic spectrum disorders, really ready to accept the instructional responsibilities for those children? It is possible that even a well designed special education program for a school district could still fall short of adequately providing for the special needs of children with autistic spectrum disorders. It seems clear that the treatment costs for children with autism— sometimes amounting to $40,000 to $60,000 a year—lie at the heart of many of the disputes between parents and school systems, with the schools trying to reduce their financial obligations while still providing appropriate services to the child and family. A number of states have attempted to bring a variety of resources together to deal with the fiscal problems created by the recommended intensive treatments for children with autism and their families. Several states (e.g., Wisconsin, Vermont) have used Medicaid reimbursement as a primary source of funds, while other states (North Carolina, Connecticut) use a combination of funds (developmental disabilities, Part C of IDEA, private insurance, etc.). Some systematic strategy and pattern of funding clearly seems to be called for (Hurth et al., 2000).
Many disputes arise because of the uncertainties of the various parties about what is appropriate and available in individual circumstances. It would be useful for all concerned to have an updated summary of current case law on cases with children with autistic spectrum disorders, accessible on the Internet or from other sources, so that schools and parents can understand the various options available to them that are consistent with FAPE. Policies are always evolving as new knowledge and problems are introduced into the environment. The professional community that wishes to stand with the parents and the needs of their children should not be placed in an antagonistic posture to them by rules and regulations that hinder rather than help the positive relationship between school and family.
In addition, levels of information about autistic spectrum disorders vary greatly within the professional communities that make funding and policy recommendations and decisions, including state task forces in peer education and review panels in federal agencies. It is therefore crucial that persons knowledgeable in the range of needs and interventions associated with autistic spectrum disorders be included in or consulted by these communities.