Recent data suggests 1 in 36 children has autism. In Michigan, the number of autism students is almost 40,000. If such a high number of children have autism, why is it SO HARD to get a good IEP for autism in Michigan schools? I ask myself this question often as a Special Education Advocate. One would think that schools are very well versed in supporting autistic children but that isn't always the case.
Some schools do a great job supporting ASD kids, while others not so much. Autism can impact so many different areas that for most ASD children school can be extremely challenging. This is why it is so important for parents to be strong advocates for their child in IEP meetings.
HOW DOES AUTISM IMPACT CHILDREN?
Autism can impact many aspects of learning and functional performance. It is important to ensure that all key areas are discussed and assessed for a student's need when discussing IEP eligibility, accommodations, supports and services.
- Academics: Reading, written language, math, science, and literacy.
- Cognitive Learning: How a child processes and understands information including: executive functioning (planning, focus, organization, impulse control), processing skills (storing information/memory, cognitive fluency), problem-solving, knowledge, and reasoning.
- Communication: How a child uses and understands language for communication including speech skills (sound production, fluency, voice), social and pragmatic language, and need for special communication devices for those with limited verbal communication abilities.
- Self-Advocacy: A child’s ability to recognize need for support and ask for and receive help.
- Independence: Self-care skills, community functioning, employability, goal setting and decision making.
- Social-Emotional: Skills and knowledge needed for building and maintining relationships including identifying/communicating needs, self-management/emotional regulation, emotional awareness, perspective taking, expressing feelings/emotions, self confidence and self esteem.
- Physical and Health: Understanding and maintaining physical well-being (vision, hearing, senses) in addition to gross/fine motor skills, attention, auditory and visual processing.
- Behaviors: Undesired behaviors that need interventions or supports. Determine if a Behavior Intervention Plan is needed to addresss behavior changes (outbursts, repetitive behaviors, eloping, etc.).
- Sensory: Need for sensory breaks or coping strategies when there is sensory overload.
- Mental Health: Learn to identify anxiety triggers and how to implement coping strategies.
MICHIGAN AUTISM IEP ELIGIBILITY:
One would think that if my child has an autism diagnosis then they should be eligible for an IEP under the eligibility category of autism, right? Nope! It's not that simple. MARSE (Michigan Administrative Regulations for Special Education) has its own IEP eligibility requirements for students to get an IEP based on autism. This is what Michigan law says about autism IEP eligibility requirements:
MARSE R 340.1715 Autism spectrum disorder defined; determination.
(1) Autism spectrum disorder is considered a lifelong developmental disability that adversely affects a student’s educational performance in 1 or more of the following performance areas:
Autism spectrum disorder is typically manifested before 36 months of age. A child who first manifests the characteristics after age 3 may also meet criteria. Autism spectrum disorder is characterized by qualitative impairments in reciprocal social interactions, qualitative impairments in communication, and restricted range of interests/repetitive behavior.
(2) Determination for eligibility shall include all of the following:
(a) Qualitative impairments in reciprocal social interactions including at least 2 of the following areas:
(i) Marked impairment in the use of multiple nonverbal behaviors such as eye-to-eye gaze, facial expression, body postures, and gestures to regulate social interaction.
(ii) Failure to develop peer relationships appropriate to developmental level.
(iii) Marked impairment in spontaneous seeking to share enjoyment, interests, or achievements with other people, for example, by a lack of showing, bringing, or pointing out objects of interest.
(iv) Marked impairment in the areas of social or emotional reciprocity.
(b) Qualitative impairments in communication including at least 1 of the following:
(i) Delay in, or total lack of, the development of spoken language not accompanied by an attempt to compensate through alternative modes of communication such as gesture or mime.
(ii) Marked impairment in pragmatics or in the ability to initiate, sustain, or engage in reciprocal conversation with others.
(iii) Stereotyped and repetitive use of language or idiosyncratic language.
(iv) Lack of varied, spontaneous make-believe play or social imitative play appropriate to developmental level.
(c) Restricted, repetitive, and stereotyped behaviors including at least 1 of the following:
(i) Encompassing preoccupation with 1 or more stereotyped and restricted patterns of interest that is abnormal either in intensity or focus.
(ii) Apparently inflexible adherence to specific, nonfunctional routines or rituals.
(iii) Stereotyped and repetitive motor mannerisms, for example, hand or finger flapping or twisting, or complex whole-body movements.
(iv) Persistent preoccupation with parts of objects.
(3) Determination may include unusual or inconsistent response to sensory stimuli, in combination with subdivisions (a), (b), and (c) of subrule (2) of this rule.
(4) While autism spectrum disorder may exist concurrently with other diagnoses or areas of disability, to be eligible under this rule, there shall not be a primary diagnosis of schizophrenia or emotional impairment.
(5) A determination of impairment shall be based upon a full and individual evaluation by a multidisciplinary evaluation team including, at a minimum, a psychologist or psychiatrist, an authorized provider of speech and language under R 340.1745(d), and a school social worker
WHO GETS AN IEP IN MICHIGAN UNDER AUTISM ELIGIBILITY?
Based on the above criteria, many ASD children often do not qualify for an IEP under the eligibility category of autism. But if that happens, don't worry! There are other classifications for IEP eligibility. Some of the other areas your child may qualify under could be SPD (Specific Learning Disability), SL (Speech and Language Disorder) or OHI (Other Health Impairment). This is where working with a Special Education Advocate can help get your child the right IEP eligibility to ensure your child gets the best supports based on his/her needs.
MICHIGAN AUTISM IEP EVALUATION RULES:
Each state has their own process and guidelines for evaluating students. In Michigan, the autism guidelines for evaluation can be found here. This guidance was put together by the Michigan Autism Council. I highly recommend you download and keep a copy of this document as a reference to better learn and understand the process.
COMMONLY USED EVALUATION TOOLS FOR MICHIGAN AUTISM IEP ELIGIBILITY:
Modified Checklist for Autism in Toddlers Revised (M-CHAT-RF): The M-CHAT is an expanded American version of the original CHAT from the UK. The M-CHAT has 23 yes/no questions and may be used with children from 15 to 30 months old.
Autism Diagnostic Interview – Revised (ADI-R): The ADI-R is a standardized interview for diagnosing autism. It can be used for children with a mental age at or above two years. Administration time is 90-150 minutes, including scoring.
Autism Diagnostic Observation Scale (ADOS-2): The ADOS-2 is a structured observation for diagnosing ASD. The tool includes several modules based on the child’s language skills and can be used from 12 months through adulthood. Administrative time is 40 to 60 minutes.
Autism Screening Instrument of Educational Planning – Third Edition (ASIEP-3): The ASIEP-3 rates individuals from 2 years to 13 years and 11 months of age in five core areas (behavior, vocal behavior, interactions, education, and learning rate). It is designed to identify individuals with ASD as well as assist in planning and monitoring educational programs for students with ASD.
Childhood Autism Rating Scale-Second Edition (CARS-2): CARS is a 15-item rating scale for diagnosing ASD. Ratings are based on frequency of the behavior in question, its intensity, peculiarity, and duration. It may be used for children two years and older. Administrative time is 5 to 10 minutes.
Gilliam Asperger’s Disorder Scale-Second Edition (GADS-2): The GADS is a norm-referenced assessment tool designed to evaluate individuals who may have Asperger’s Disorder. Appropriate for individuals aged 3 to 22. Completion time is 5 to 10 minutes.
Gilliam Autism Rating Scale (GARS-3): The GARS-3 is based on the DSM-5. This rating scale may be used for identification and diagnosis of individuals at or above age three. The instrument consists of 56 items describing the characteristic behaviors of persons with autism. The items are grouped into six subscales: Restrictive/Repetitive Behaviors, Social Interaction, Social Communication, Emotional Responses, Cognitive Style, and Maladaptive Speech.
AUTISM IEP CHECKLIST
You will need to create a list of needs for your child and make sure these items are backed up with data and evidence demonstrating these deficits impact educational and functional performance at school. Look deep into the evaluation data and information in the REED and MET documents to gather evidence. If you have an outside evaluation, collect data and evidence there too. In order to determine which areas your child has needs in, download our ASD IEP Checklist and use it as a working tool.
This highlights the most common areas of need for ASD students. Look at each area on the checklist and go back into the data and see if a need is supported. If you feel there are areas of need that are not supported by data, you may need to request additional evaluation in specific areas. This list is meant to guide you and help you know which areas to advocate for in the IEP.
If your child has autism and is attending school in Michigan, it's time to make sure that the IEP is comprehensive and written appropriately based on your child's specific needs and situation. Not all children with ASD present the same way. Make sure to review the MARSE evaluation guidelines so you better understand ASD eligibility for an IEP. If your child doesn't qualify under ASD, there are other options.
Use our ASD IEP Checklist to help guide you in the process. In order to better advocate for your child, you need to learn how to advocate based on Michigan special education laws. If you are unsure and new to IEPs or feel unprepared to do this alone, reach out to me and I can help you!