FAQs on Programs for Students on the Autism Spectrum SES Spring 2010
Overview • Ingredients of Special Education Programs • Methodology • Goals and Objectives • Placement and the LRE • Services, Aids, and Supports
Question 1: What are the legal ingredients of a special education program?
Legal ingredients of special education program? Answer 1: • Specially designed instruction • Related services • Supplementary aids and services • Program modifications or supports
Question 2: What components of a special education program are appropriate for students with autism?
Components for students with autism? Answer 2: • Appropriate educational components depend on: • Type and severity of needs • Age • Grade level (e.g., preschool, elementary school, middle/high school) • Wide-ranging behaviors/needs variety of program components
Question 3: How does methodology fit in the framework of a special education program?
How does methodology fit in? Answer 3: • Extends to all components of educational program, not just to placement • Choice of methodology is left to school district • No obligation to specify particular methodology in IEP, unless necessary for student to receive a FAPE
Question 4: Must a school district discuss or provide documentation for specific methodologies during an IEP meeting?
Discuss or provide documentation of methodology? Answer 4: • No legal requirement to discuss or to provide documentation • However, this does not mean school districts should refuse to discuss the appropriateness of a parent’s requested methodology
Question 5: When must a school district provide prior written notice regarding methodology-related requests?
Prior written notice for methodology-related requests? Answer 5: • Denial of parent request for documentation of methodology school district intends to use? • Notice is not required • Denial of parent request for school district to implement particular methodology? • Notice is required
Practice Pointer Following consideration of a parent’s requested methodology, explain how the district’s methodologies are appropriate to address the child’s unique needs. Be sure to document your response in the IEP comments or in a prior written notice letter.
Question 6: What methodologies have courts and hearing officers found to be appropriate for students with autism?
Appropriate autism methodologies? Answer 6: • Applied Behavior Analysis (“ABA”) • Discrete Trial Training (“DTT”) • Picture Exchange Communication System (“PECS”) • Treatment and Education of Autism and Related Communication-Handicapped Children (“TEACCH”) • “Eclectic” Approach
Question 7: Must a proposed methodology be supported by peer-reviewed research?
Supported by peer-reviewed research? Answer: 7 • Only to the extent practicable • No definition of “to the extent practicable” • Generally means to use peer-reviewed methods to extent that such methods are available • Decision not to use peer-reviewed methods does not automatically amount to a denial of FAPE
Question 8: How can a school district support an “eclectic” program given the “scientifically-based” and “peer-reviewed” standards?
How to support “eclectic” program? Answer 8: • “Eclectic” program is supportable when: • Component parts of program are based on peer-reviewed research; and • IEP team has determined program to be appropriate to meet unique needs
How to support “eclectic” program? Joshua A. v. Rocklin USD (9th Cir. 2009) • District offered a program that incorporated array of peer-reviewed methodologies • Parents disputed offer, contending that an ABA program was the only peer-reviewed methodology proven to be effective for students with autism • Ninth Circuit rejected Parent’s claim and upheld appropriateness of “eclectic” program because it was: • Based on accepted principles in autism education • In conformity with best practices • Peer-reviewed to the extent practicable
Question 9: What is the National Standards Project and does it change or otherwise impact a school district’s choice of methodology?
What is the National Standards Project? Answer 9: • Report evaluates effectiveness of treatment approaches for individuals with autism • “Treatment” approaches suggests medical, rather than educational, analysis
What is the National Standards Project? Answer 9 (cont): • Includes classification/rating system categorizing treatments as: • Established • Emerging • Unestablished • Ineffective/Harmful • Use report strategically when methodologies are challenged by parent and/or representative
Practice Pointer Familiarize yourself with the contents of the report and be prepared to answer questions regarding the findings
Question 10: Has OAH supported school districts when they refuse to offer ABA to older students?
Refusal to provide ABA to older students? Answer 10: • Yes, OAH has found that research does not support use of ABA for older students • A social skills program may be more appropriate for older students to address social, behavioral, and communication needs • But, make sure to consider individual needs on a case-by-case basis
Refusal to provide ABA to older students? Answer 10 (cont): Corona-Norco USD v. Student (OAH 2009) • District refused to provide in-home ABA program to 13-year-old student • District offered social skills group conducted by ABA-trained specialists, with disabled and nondisabled students • ALJ found: • Behaviors did not prevent access to school program • School program allowed more opportunities to interact with nondisabled peers than in-home program • Social skills program was less restrictive
Question 11: Must district staff have certain qualifications to use a particular methodology and must those qualifications be documented in the student’s IEP?
Staff qualifications to use particular methodology? Answer 11: • Law requires “qualified personnel” • “Qualified personnel” = appropriately and adequately prepared and trained, possess content knowledge and skills
Staff qualifications to use particular methodology? Answer 11 (cont): • For students with autism, OAH has considered education, training, and experience of school personnel • No legal requirement to document a particular qualification in the IEP, unless necessary to provide the student a FAPE
Question 12: Must a school district develop IEP goals in every content area, particularly related services?
IEP goals in every content area? Answer 12: • Every annual goal should contain corresponding items of instruction, supports, or services to enable student to achieve those goals • However: • No requirement to write goals for items in IEP that are not tied to an area of educational need (e.g., transportation) • No requirement to include goals specifically for related services (e.g., “speech and language therapy” goals)
Question 13: Is a school district obligated to include goals in a student’s IEP which are proposed by a parent based on the recommendations of the student’s service provider?
Include parent’s/service provider’s proposed goals? Answer 13: • Not typically • Although the team must consider request and incorporate suggestions as appropriate
Include parent’s/service provider’s proposed goals? Answer 13 (cont): Joshua A. v. Rocklin USD (9th Cir. 2009) • Parents agreed with District’s 14 proposed goals but requested inclusion of 324 goals recommended by private service provider • District refused, believing 324 goals were implicitly part of the IEP and implementation would dilute efforts to address communication needs • Ninth Circuit supported District’s decision
Include parent’s/service provider’s proposed goals? Answer 13 (cont): Student v. Garvey ESD (OAH 2008) • Student received home and school-based NPA services • NPA proposed five goals addressing behavior, which District considered but refused to incorporate • District only developed one social goal • ALJ found District’s goal to be inappropriate, vague, and not measurable, and ordered District to incorporate four of the NPA’s five proposed goals
Practice Pointer Make sure to document in the IEP notes that the team considered the private service provider’s proposed goals, including the extent to which any were adopted and the reasons for adopting or denying the inclusion of those goals
Question 14: Must a school district develop home-based and school-based IEP goals if the student is receiving instruction in both settings?
Home-based and school-based goals required? Answer 14: • No requirement to tailor goals to a particular educational setting (e.g., home, school, or NPA) • Can be unduly restrictive for service providers • However, specify the educational setting in the goal if necessary to provide a FAPE
Question 15: Do OAH decisions endorse a certain number of hours per week in an autism program as necessary for a student to benefit from his/her education?
Hours per week of autism program to benefit? Answer 15: • No • No set formula or magic number of hours yields successful results for all students with autism
Hours per week of autism program to benefit? Answer 15 (cont): Student v. Downey USD (OAH 2009) = 40-hour per week program unnecessary for FAPE • Seven-year-old student with significant needs • District offered 30-hour ABA program, divided between home and school settings • Student contended offer was insufficient, but her experts could not agree • ALJ concluded Student did not meet burden to show that the District’s program was inappropriate
Answer 15 (cont): Hemet USD v. Student (OAH 2008) = 40-hour per week program necessary for FAPE • Five-year-old student with serious deficiencies in speech, behavior, and socialization • District offered placement in kindergarten autism program and 16 hours per week of in-home ABA instruction • Student’s experts credibly testified that District’s program was too unstructured, with inadequate language/social interaction • ALJ ordered District to fund Student’s 40-hour private program through end of the school year
Question 16: When is a home-based, rather than school-based, program appropriate for a student with autism?
Home-based vs. school-based program? Answer 16: • May depend on student’s age and type of foundational skills needed to function in classroom environment • “Regular educational environment” • For preschoolers, may include home setting • For school-age students, typically will be a school setting