Individuals with Disabilities Education Act
A safeguard to ensure that your child's educational needs are met by your school district is the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, known as IDEA. (In this instance, the word “disabilities” is a necessary evil, and it shouldn't define how you or the world views your son or daughter.) IDEA is the federal law that guarantees your child's entitlement to a Free and Appropriate Public Education (FAPE). The types of disabilities covered by IDEA include the following:
Hearing impairment (including deafness)
Speech or language impairment
Visual impairment (including blindness)
Serious emotional disturbance
Traumatic brain injury
Other health impairment
Specific learning disability
Your child's most pressing needs, as you see them, may not be academic at all but social. This subtlety may be challenging for your child's educators to concede, and this may lead to unfair labeling of your child's way of being. Remain confident of the fact that you know your child best, and advocate on her behalf.
As noted, some school districts may oppose the need for an Individualized Education Program as it applies to the child with Asperger's based upon this list, or based upon the failure to recognize the educational implications of Asperger's. The last bullet, “specific learning disability,” may apply to your situation if your child “does not achieve commensurate with his or her age and ability levels,” or if your child “has a severe discrepancy between achievement and intellectual ability” in one or more of the following areas:
Basic reading skills
These are all areas identified by IDEA (specifically in 34 CFR, section 300.341). As you can see, many children with Asperger's may readily qualify for educational support — especially the comprehension portions — based upon the breakdown definition of “specific learning disability.” Other school districts may use the designation of “other health impairment” to qualify a child with Asperger's. This is where a comprehensive evaluation by a psychologist, psychiatrist, or other qualified professional experienced in diagnosing Asperger's Syndrome will be most helpful. The school district should offer to provide such an evaluation if you do not already have a diagnosis for your child. If not, the process can be initiated at your request. Ensure that you make this request in writing, include language giving your consent to an evaluation, and retain a copy for your records.
The conclusions of the professional conducting the evaluation will likely show discrepancies between your child's intellectual abilities and her ability to achieve in any of the previously listed areas. This is vital in order for your school district to appropriately qualify your child for an educational program designed to meet her needs. (Districts are mandated to have “Child Find” policies in effect to identify, locate, and evaluate children who may be protected under IDEA.) In this way, you can begin to establish a proactive, working partnership with your school district.
A comprehensive evaluation by a professional experienced in identifying Asperger's Syndrome should also contain recommendations for how you and your child's educational team might move forward in developing a plan to support your child.