The phrase “special education” can be very frightening to some parents. It may conjure your recollections of classes tucked away in far corners or the basement of a school and peopled exclusively by children with mental retardation. Remember FAPE? Part of the acronym stands for “Appropriate Education.” Placing your child with Asperger's Syndrome in a stereotypical special education classroom with children not on par with his educational intellect (meaning those with mental retardation) would be inappropriate. (In fact, IDEA provides that, wherever possible, all children with disabilities, including mental retardation, should receive their education alongside typical peers. As a result, there is a gradual momentum toward phasing out special education classrooms.)
Many children with Asperger's Syndrome communicate their desire to just fit in and be like the other kids. And yet, some may have daily needs that they are unready, unable, or unwilling to articulate. Be prepared to creatively discuss options and opportunities to include your child throughout the school day.
So if someone from your school district happens to slip and use the phrase “special education” in reference to your child, don't freak out immediately; this person has most likely used the term generically. But do ask for specific clarification. Nowadays, special education can take many forms of service and may be as subtle as supporting your child's learning comprehension using a teacher's aide, for example.
Developing a Plan
The evaluation for your child should determine his special education (or related service) needs and will generate an appointment for a team meeting to develop an Individualized Education Program, or IEP. The IEP is the document that will detail, in writing, an individualized approach to meeting the unique needs of your child. The team should include:
You and your spouse
One regular education teacher
One special education teacher
A school representative who can make decisions about the delivery of services (usually the building principal)
Someone who can interpret the evaluation results as they apply to your child's educational instruction
Other participants with special expertise or knowledge of your child
Your child may also participate if he chooses to be present. Participants with special expertise may include a parent advocate knowledgeable about IDEA and the IEP process, a professional consultant who specializes in developing IEPs, or a professional consultant who specializes in Asperger's Syndrome. Finding a specialist can be a crucial issue, and it can be frustrating to both parents and school officials when one is not accessible.
At this point (and depending upon your geographic location), it may not be realistic to expect that a teacher experienced in educating students with Asperger's Syndrome will be teaching your child. Because you know your child best, you may become fiercely protective and defensive of what you believe your child needs. On the other hand, most willing and cooperative school districts may lack such expertise and may be of the position that they are doing all they can. Such disputes are addressed later in this chapter.
The Evaluation Process
If you have requested that your school district evaluate your child, the district must comply, and this process should be completed within sixty days after your first written request. After this, the district will ask that you sign a “Permission to Evaluate” form. The evaluation should be completed within sixty days after your original written request (that contains consent from you to evaluate your child), not sixty days after you've signed the permission form. Once the evaluation is completed, a team meeting should be convened to review the evaluation. You should receive your child's evaluation well in advance of the team meeting, but no later than ten days prior to such a meeting. This team meeting may also serve as the first IEP meeting if you wish.
If your child has been deemed eligible for services, IEP team members should be identified, and the first meeting should occur within thirty calendar days of the original determination of eligibility. The completed IEP must then be implemented within ten school days. It must also be reviewed yearly and can be revisited in a team meeting upon your request outside of the annual meeting date. The IEP must also be in effect for your child at the beginning of each new school year.
Don't be intimated to request an advance, blank copy of the tool that will be used to evaluate your child. It will help you understand the special education services process and provide indicators of areas in which your child may excel or fail. One excellent website with information on special education law is