Source: Indys Child Parenting Magazine

The Second Step: Transitioning a Child with Autism Out of First Steps
What to Expect Once Your Child Leaves First Steps

by Carrie Bishop

March 01, 2011

Indiana First Steps early intervention program can be a blessing for families who catch their child’s autism early. Once a child turns 3, however, he or she is no longer eligible for this program. What is a family’s next step after First Steps?

The short answer is transition into services that fall under the Indiana Department of Education. This means a child will go from a home-based program to one that is school based. Many school districts run their own 3 to 5 year old programs that are equipped to help children with special needs, including those with an autism spectrum disorder. Some families also choose to enter their child into a private, center-based program to receive various therapies. It depends on the child’s unique set of needs and the family’s financial and otherwise life circumstances. This article will focus on the transition from First Steps into the public school setting.

What’s next step by step

Generally speaking, parents can expect to encounter the following process as their child turns 3 and moves out of First Steps and into the local school district:

1. As the child approaches age 3, a formal transition plan should be put into place by the First Steps service coordinator; however, the process should be discussed as early as the first time the child receives early intervention services and throughout his or her involvement in First Steps. Further, all decisions about a child’s programming needs will be made prior to the third birthday.

2. At 30 months of age, or as soon as a child is identified thereafter until he or she is 36 months, the First Steps service coordinator will complete and forward a document called the First Steps 30 Month Notice to Local Educational Agency to the school along with other documentation such as the child’s most recent individualized family service plan (IFSP), social history, recent assessments and progress summaries, physician’s health summary, and other documents.

3. To prepare for the transition, the service coordinator will help the family gather information required by the child’s school. This includes proof of residency, immunization records and birth certificate, which will allow for the initiation of preschool services. Parents may also want to send additional documents that include medical, educational, or therapeutic information that may be helpful to the child’s soon-to-be school.

4. Just as the IFSP should include steps taken to support the transition of the child and family into the First Steps system and throughout the program, it will also include essential steps that will support the child and family out of the program. Part of this will include a transition meeting with the parents and their school district, as well as other service providers important to the child’s continued growth.

5. After the transition meeting, there will be an evaluation of the child, which of course the parents are involved in as well. The evaluation will often include a school psychologist, speech therapist, occupational therapist, parent and others deemed appropriate during the transition meeting. The evaluation process will determine if a child should attend the district’s developmental preschool or enroll in a typical community-based preschool while tapping into specific therapies offered through the public school system.

6. A case conference committee meeting follows the evaluation. This effort includes the family and aims to identify the needs of the child, determine eligibility for services, and identify placement options in the least restrictive environment. For eligible children, the case conference committee will develop an individualized education plan by the child’s third birthday.

It’s a process to say the least; yet, it exists to help the child transition from the home-based First Steps into a school setting as easily and seamlessly as possible.

School district autism consultants can help

In addition to a family’s familiar First Steps service coordinator, parents with a child with autism can also tap into another well-informed resource who focuses exclusively on autism spectrum disorders. This person is called an autism consultant, leader or mentor. Each school district now has one such advocate who, among many duties, is available to help with the transition from First Steps, including the creation of the IEP.

“The increasing incidents of autism has put a strain on schools to provide the types of services these types of kids need,” says Cathy Pratt, director for the Indiana Resource Center for Autism at the Indiana Institute on Disability and Community at Indiana University. Pratt’s organization has trained and worked with many of the state’s autism leaders.

“A lot of times special education directors are busy and may not have a lot of knowledge about autism. [The autism leaders] allow parents to connect with someone within their district who speaks their language and can help them through the process. These are leaders who are trained through us. We support them. They network with each other across the state,” says Pratt.

Edi Powell is among the group of autism consultants. A Washington Township teacher for 17 years, Powell has been working now for eight years exclusively with kids who have autism, their families, and teachers who have students on the autism spectrum. A bit of a jack-of-all-trades when it comes to supporting the autism community within Washington Township schools, she and her peers are great resources for families transitioning out of First Steps into their local school system. Parents can find Powell or their local autism consultant by calling their school district or looking on the Indiana Resource Center for Autism website under the tab for Autism Support in School Districts.

Don’t miss a developmental step

First Steps is a terrific resource for families with a child who has autism or other developmental delay or disorder. With the state’s established process to transition kids out of their early intervention program and into a school-based setting, and school resources like autism consultants, there is no reason families should miss a step when transitioning into the public school system.