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5 Legal Tips for Parents of Autistic Children

By Aditi Mukherji, JD | Last updated on

As many as one in 68 children in the United States may have autism, according to a new report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

From your child's right to educational accommodations to different types of alternative dispute resolution, parents of autistic children are often unfamiliar with the legal protections in place to protect their children's access to education.

In honor of National Autism Awareness Month and World Autism Awareness Day, here are five introductory and education-focused legal tips for parents of autistic children:

  1. Your child has a right to education. Your child has a right to free, appropriate education under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). IDEA requires that schools provide special education services to eligible students as outlined in a student's Individualized Education Program (IEP).
  2. An Individualized Education Program (IEP) is crucial. An IEP is the first stop on the road after determining your child's eligibility under the IDEA. For an overview of what an IEP entails, fill out your information to see an infographic of a custom-made IEP roadmap, as provided by the National Center for Learning Disabilities. Doing so might help you see what an IEP looks like, think about alternative paths, and clear up confusion about what to do first, now, or next. Make sure to prepare for your IEP meeting.
  3. Know what Least Restrictive Environment (LRE) means. IDEA also provides very specific requirements to guarantee a Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE) for students with disabilities in the least restrictive environment (LRE). FAPE and LRE are the protected rights of every eligible child, in all 50 states. To make the most use of the protection, get familiar with what "appropriate" education and "least restrictive environment" mean.
  4. Mediation can help in disputes between you and your child's school. If a dispute arises over your child's education, you may need to enter into mediation to resolve the dispute. For example, the family of a teenager with autism won an undisclosed amount of money after court-ordered mediation with a private school in New Jersey that failed to provide the boy with an Individualized Education Plan (IEP).
  5. Legal assistance is a click away. Whether it's dealing with school officials or standing up for your child's rights, an experienced education lawyer in your area can help navigate you through the complex legal process and provide guidance along the way.

For more information on your child's rights to education, check out FindLaw's section on Education Law.

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