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Educating Children with Autism
both groups were simultaneously receiving day treatment from a variety of settings.
It is important for schools to recognize that parents need both initial training and on-going support for trouble shooting if they are to sustain their effort at home teaching (Harris, 1986). Simply providing a basic training course in teaching principles is often insufficient to ensure the long-term ability of many parents to solve new problems as they arise.
Our review of the practices of the most frequently cited programs serving children with autism indicates that all of them offer training to parents in the teaching methods used in the programs (see Chapters 11 and 12). Their expectations for parental involvement range from the assumption of a major role on a daily basis to a less central but still essential role of ensuring that a child can transfer material from school to the home and community.
Most studies of parents as teachers were carried out when parents had an auxiliary role in supporting school based programs. There has been a dearth of studies of the role of parents in intensive home-based programs. Today, though it is not uncommon for parents to have the central function in a home-based program, little is known about the most effective ways to help them master the skills they need for this role or about the stress this role may bring to family life.
THE ADVOCACY ROLE
In addition to supporting their child’s learning at home and in the community, parents are also cast in the role of advocate for their child with autism. Like parents of children with other disorders, these parents need to serve as effective members of the IEP or Individual Family Service Plan (IFSP) team, helping to ensure that appropriate educational programs are in place for their children (Seligman and Darling, 1997). Being an effective advocate means that parents understand the legal rights of their child according to federal and state law and regulations. For most families the advocacy role focuses mainly on the needs of their own child. There will also be some parents for whom that role may encompass work at the local, state, or national level to advocate on behalf of policies to meet the needs of all children and adults with autism.
Although some parents may resort to legal processes to obtain the educational resources needed by their children, for most families the advocacy process is a much less adversarial one. Being a good advocate means being an effective collaborator with the professionals who serve a child. That entails learning the vocabulary of education, understanding the characteristics of autism and how those are related to a child’s educational needs, and appreciating how treatment techniques work. It also means learning how to disagree and resolve differences within a con-