Hi and welcome to Ask Missy Mondays where I respond to email questions from readers who have questions about behavior. Today’s question comes from Erin who asks
Last week, my four-year old son was just diagnosed with autism by a neurologist. However, at the IEP (Individualized Education Program) meeting back in March, the school told us our child was “fine” and that he no longer needed services. We moved to a new school district a few months ago. So when we received the autism diagnosis, we went to the new school to ask what to do. They told us that since we had our IEP meeting back in March at the other district, that whatever happened in that meeting determined what services would be available to us now.
Our child needs help! He has been kicked out of several day cares because of his behaviors. He is hyper, biting, loud, and wiggly. I cannot take him in public. Where can I get medication to make this all better? Can’t someone help us?
Wow Erin, I’m speechless. First, I am sorry that your child’s behaviors feel so out of control for you. It sounds like he definitely needs some help in that area. But also, let’s not forget that he was also given an autism diagnosis and thus, he is going to need help in the three main areas related to autism: speech and language, social interactions, and other behaviors such as stereotypical behaviors and/or adaptive behaviors.
I am going to back you up and have you start over with your new school district. Go to the district and bring copies of the new diagnosis and that person’s recommendations. Bring a letter that you have hand-written and dated (and saved a copy of at home) requesting an IEP meeting as soon as possible–preferably before the holiday break. While the IEP meeting in March resulted in your child being dismissed from services, new information is available suggesting that your child does, in fact, need services. The school must arrange an IEP meeting to be held within a reasonable amount of time.
At this new IEP meeting, the new team will determine if your child is eligible for services. According to federal guidelines, two things are required for him to be eligible for services. The first is that he must have 1 of the 14 disability categories identified in the Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act (IDEIA). Autism is one of those 14 categories , so you are in luck there. The second requirement is that he needs special education in order to benefit from education. Your child cannot possibly benefit from education because he has been kicked out of an educational setting due to his behavior. Thus, he needs special education services to address his behavior so that he will benefit from the education available to him.
Develop a Behavior Intervention Plan
This brings me to another point. Under federal guidelines, if a child’s behavior interferes with his learning, then the team must consider positive behavior supports. By definition, in order for a child to receive positive behavior supports, he must first have a Functional Behavioral Assessment to determine why his behaviors are occurring. The assessment is then used to develop the Behavior Intervention Plan (BIP). All people involved in your child’s program must be trained on the plan and they must implement the plan. This includes you, your husband, the bus driver, the teacher, the speech teacher, and so forth.
Design a Program
Throughout the meeting, the team, including you and your husband, should develop a program that will address each and every one of your child’s needs. This is in addition to the BIP that should be developed. During the program development, it will be important to identify a number of goals and objectives that your child needs to master throughout the course of the year.
Particular attention should be paid to the three main areas of autism: communication, social skills, and behaviors. Additionally, the school is required to use evidence based methodology to teach your child. Currently, instruction based on principles of Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA), is widely recognized as one successful method for teaching children with autism. Any ABA program should be overseen by a Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA) or someone with training and experience equivalent to a BCBA.
To Medicate or Not
I can certainly relate to your desires to medicate your child to control his behaviors. However, before you go down that route, might I suggest that you try other proven strategies first. For example, we know that certain foods may cause an increase in behaviors. You may read a bit more about that here and here.
Additionally, the BIP and comprehensive IEP, should be designed to teach your child to better control his behaviors. Multiple strategies, including the use of self-management, should be a part of his program.
If, after 6-12 months of following all of these techniques, your child’s impulsivity and hyperactivity has not improved, then perhaps you should visit an appropriately trained health care practitioner to discuss medication options.
You have a long road ahead of you. However, research has shown that an autism diagnosis is not the end of the road. Children can recover from autism and go on to function independently and indistinguishable from their peers. Get to work! And please send me updates!
If you have a behavior question that you need assistance on, please email: askmissy at appliedbehavioralstrategies dot com.