Older Than Three
Children older than three usually have school-based, individualized, special autism education. The child may be in a segregated class with other autistic children or in an integrated class with children without disabilities for at least part of the day. Different localities may use differing methods, but all should provide a structure that will help the children learn social skills and functional communication. In these programs, teachers often involve the parents, giving useful advice in how to help their child use the skills or behaviors learned at school when they are at home.
In elementary school, as part of the autism education, the child should receive help in any skill area that is delayed and, at the same time, be encouraged to grow in his or her areas of strength. Ideally, the education curriculum should be adapted to the individual child's needs. Many schools today have an inclusion program in which the child is in a regular classroom for most of the day, with special instruction for a part of the day. This education should include such skills as learning how to act in social situations and in making friends. Although higher-functioning children may be able to handle academic work, they, too, need help to organize tasks and avoid distractions.
Middle and High School
During middle and high school years, autism education will begin to address such practical matters as work, community living, and recreational activities. This should include:
- Work experience
- Using public transportation
- Learning skills that will be important in community living.
All through your child's school years, you will want to be an active participant in his or her education program. Collaboration between parents and educators is essential in evaluating your child's progress.
Adolescence is a time of stress and confusion, and it is no less so for teenagers with autism. Like all children, they need help in dealing with their budding sexuality. While some behaviors improve during the teenage years, some get worse. Increased autistic or aggressive behavior may be one way some teens express their newfound tension and confusion.
The teenage years are also a time when children become more socially sensitive. At the age that most teenagers are concerned with acne, popularity, grades, and dates, teens with autism may become painfully aware that they are different from their peers. They may notice that they lack friends. And unlike their schoolmates, they aren't dating or planning for a career. For some, the sadness that comes with such realization motivates them to learn new behaviors and acquire better social skills.