Helping Kids With Autism Navigate School

Open communication and collaboration can smooth the way for your child's school success. Here, the Vice President of Clinical Operations at Gateway Pediatric Therapy's Sterling Heights clinic offers insight.

The start of school is typically an exciting time for families. For those families with a child with autism, however, it may be a time fraught with questions and even worry. Samantha Hancock, MA, BCBA, LBA, is Vice President of Clinical Operations at Gateway Pediatric Therapy‘s Sterling Heights location and she regularly communicates with parents on this topic.

“If a child is already in school when he or she receives a diagnosis, I recommend parents reach out to school administrators right away,” she says. “Share the information about your child’s diagnosis. Request a meeting to talk about it.”

If a child is not yet in school, Hancock suggests parents reach out to the district to understand what steps need to be taken as the child approaches school age.

“I can’t stress enough how important it is for parents to collaborate with the school and the district to share any and all diagnostic information early on,” she notes.

Hancock says it’s important for parents to understand that neither the school nor the district provides a diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). Diagnoses are provided by doctors, clinical psychologists, or other professionals with the appropriate certifications. Taking into consideration the diagnostic report, parent input and observations of the child, a multidisciplinary team from the school district will put together an Individualized Education Program (IEP) for the child. An IEP is a written document for a student with disabilities that outlines the child’s educational needs and goals as well as any programs and services the intermediate school district or its member district will provide to help the student make educational progress.

“An IEP has information about your child’s present level of performance, measurable goals and objectives for your child, and services and supplementary aids he or she may need to be successful in the school setting,” she explains. “It can also include any testing accommodations for which the child is eligible. The plan is completely individualized to address a child’s needs. If an IEP says the child should be receiving XYZ, he or she should be receiving XYZ.”

While most IEPs are set up to be reviewed and updated annually, Hancock encourages parents to regularly communicate their questions and concerns to the educational professional that manages the IEP. She shared that parents have the ability to request an IEP meeting if they ever feel that their child’s educational needs are not being met.

“The parents’ role is to advocate for what they believe is the best fit for their child in the school setting,” Hancock says. “I recommend open and transparent communication. At each IEP meeting, parents should receive information about their rights or what are known as procedural safeguards.”

During any and all meetings with school officials, parents should feel comfortable asking any questions, Hancock says.

“It’s perfectly acceptable for parents to ask who is responsible for which aspects of implementing the IEP, to ask the best way to communicate with staff, how they can set up meetings, etc.” she says. “Ask these questions upfront.”

As the start of school approaches, Hancock encourages parents to visit the school with the child to tour the classroom, cafeteria, playground and all other areas the child will visit during the school day.

“Introduce the child to the various teachers he or she will interact with during the day,” Hancock says.

Having conversations with the child in advance can also help him or her to prepare for this new beginning.

“Talk with your child often about who he or she can expect to see each day,” Hancock urges. “Focus on the many positives of school. Walk through what their day will look like. First, they will go to the classroom. Then they will play a math game. Then they will go to gym class. Also ask the school to provide the child with these routine reminders throughout the day.”

Hancock encourages any parents seeking additional information on their child’s rights in the school setting to visit the website for the Michigan Department of Education and the Autism Alliance of Michigan.

For more information on the services provided by Gateway Pediatric Therapy, call 248-221-2573, send an email to or visit its website at


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