The Transition From Early Intervention to School for the Child With Autism

At age 3, children move from early intervention services to their local public school district. It’s an important time, so families should work with a therapy center that’s in the know.

Children who qualify for federally mandated early intervention (EI) receive support and services until they reach age 3. But what happens then? And how can parents be sure their child will receive a continuation of the services they need? Most importantly, who can help bridge any gaps between these services to provide continuous needed support?

“Typically children from birth to age 3 who have a 30% or greater delay will receive developmental therapy, occupational therapy, speech therapy and other therapies through their early intervention team,” explains Jillian Burgard, President and CEO of Roots Autism Solutions and Therapeutic Academy. “Then they would move on to the school system, which would determine whether or not they qualify for these services.”

Regardless of whether the school district agrees that continuation of the therapies would be beneficial for the child, it’s always helpful for families to work with a therapy center that is experienced in this period of transition.

“We work closely with the EI providers when kids are young and going into the school system,” says Burgard, who brought with her 10 years of experience in public school special education when she founded Roots with Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA) Jen Link. Together, they have trained their team to know how to support families when they transition from EI to public school, including the finer points on the all-important individualized education plan (IEP).

Support for the whole child

Parents are often surprised to learn that just because their child qualifies for EI, they’re not guaranteed continued support from their local school district, Burgard says. While ABA therapy focuses on increasing a child’s repertoire of skills for functional success, school districts determine a child’s eligibility for services based on academic need.

“The school district has an obligation to make sure the IEP is academically appropriate,” she says. “If a child comes to us for ABA therapy before they are 3 years old, we work with the family and the school and any other providers to bring everyone together.”

Both Link and Burgard agree that this critical support — as well as an in-depth understanding of the child’s needs — are key. Roots might work with a child for 10, 20 or even 30 hours a week compared to the one hour per week a child might spend with early intervention providers. Nonetheless, the therapies EI provides are critical, and bringing everyone together as the child leaves early intervention is critically important to the Roots team. The support teams working together helps the child and family transition smoothly into the school system.

“Regardless of what the school will do, we can provide that support and education for the parents and bring consistency for the child before and after the school transition,” Burgard says.

And, parents have choices to best meet their child’s needs. They may select to focus on the individualized support that ABA therapy can provide and forgo preschool entirely. In these cases, the Roots team ensures that the goal is always to work toward the child being ready to attend their local school and be successful.  Even if a family opts to send their child for a half day of preschool within the school district, the child could also spend the other half day at Roots to benefit from supportive ABA therapy.

A resource that knows special education from the inside

While it’s the school district’s goal to provide an inclusive environment for every child, a school may not have resources to do that. In this situation, ABA therapists at Roots can work with the child to help gain skills needed for that inclusion, Link says.

“In this case, we would work proactively with the child to build simple skills like putting a toy back where it belongs and getting into line, or transitioning successfully from one activity to another,” she says. “We do whatever we can do to provide support and tips on the IEP so teachers can implement similar strategies so children can be successful.”

In every situation, a high level of communication between the parents, the school and the ABA therapists is critical — and it’s all the easier when the ABA provider has a strong knowledge base of public schools and IEPs.

“We are there to advocate for the family and the child so they are getting the best and what they need. It’s rare to have this perspective from both a BCBA and someone who knows about the school system,” Burgard says.

When it comes time to establish and reassess a child’s IEP, Roots can take a seat at the table and fill the gap with knowledge and expertise.

“When we are preparing for the IEP meeting, we tell the parents that we will be there to advocate on their child’s behalf,” Burgard says. “We allow them to be the parent and focus on their hopes and dreams for their child, while we work on the tough part of knowing the details and the rights of the child. Often parents break down in tears because they feel no one is hearing them. We can offer that critically important resource when and where it’s needed most.”

Learn more about Roots Autism Solutions and Therapeutic Academy’s two locations in Buffalo Grove and Lake in the Hills at rootsautimsolutions.com.

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