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Education and Complementary Therapies
The main principle of education is that each person with autism has his or her own strengths, abilities, and functional level and that his or her education should be tailored to meet his or her individual requirements. This is not only desirable for the child, it is required by federal law. The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA; P.L.101-476) guarantees free and appropriate public education for every child with a disability. This law specifies that a written and explicit education plan (the Individualized Education Plan, or IEP) be prepared by the local education authority in consultation with the child's parents. When all parties agree on the plan, the plan must be put into place and the child's progress documented. Preparation of the plan includes a comprehensive assessment of the child's needs.
Many different options are available for educating children with autism. The basic assumption is that, whenever possible, children with disabilities should be educated with their nondisabled peers, who serve as models for appropriate language, social, and behavioral skills. Thus, some children with autism are educated in mainstream classrooms, others in special education classes within mainstream public schools, and others in specialized programs separate from mainstream public schools. Parents wanting to find the best possible program for their child are advised to work with the local education authority; full cooperation and communication are essential for meeting this goal.
The following specific programs have been developed for persons with autism:
Complementary therapies include art therapy, music therapy, animal therapy, and sensory integration therapy. These are not behavioral or educational approaches per se, but they provide another opportunity for the child to develop social and communication skills. Although there is little scientific evidence that these therapies increase skills, many parents and therapists describe noticeable improvements in a child's behavior and communication abilities, as well as a sense of enjoyment.
Complementary therapies are typically used in addition to behavioral and educational approaches.
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