If your child is diagnosed with autism, getting him or her into an appropriate school setting can sometimes be a bumpy road. According to Maria Fischer, an attorney specializing in disability cases with Hinkle Fingles Prior & Fischer, parents should know they do have rights.

Under state law, the school district where you live has the responsibility to provide free appropriate education to your child.

“If they can’t do that within the walls of their own building, they do have an obligation to send that child to an out-of-district school that may be better capable of providing that education for your child.”

She said finding an appropriate placement with correct services for a child with autism can be challenging, especially when parents and the school district disagree.

“When that happens, it’s important that they try to work together collaboratively as a team, but it’s also important that parents realize they have rights," she said. "The parent has the ability and is a full member of the team and therefore their input is just as valuable.”

She said developing an individual education program, or IEP, may not be easy because districts have varying resources and programs for special-needs students.

“Parents have a right to be included. They must be invited to the IEP meeting, they must be part of the team meeting. They have a right to bring their concerns forward. They have a right to be part of the team that agrees ... about what would be best for the student.”

She said that if a parent is denied benefits that they believe they're entitled to or they are not satisfied with a ruling, there is an appeals process. Parents who disagree with the district's decision can file a lawsuit.

When that happens, both sides will bring experts into court and a judge ultimately makes the final decision.

Fischer said sometimes a student will be placed in one situation but a district may decide the child should be moved to another program somewhere else. But Fischer says parents are protected by the “stay put” rule, which keeps a child in their current program if a parent files a challenge to the move within 15 days.

She noted before children begin to receive special education at age 3, there is an early intervention program that provides services for kids at home.

Fischer also pointed out parents with autistic children need to be aware of a savings program called the ABLE Act, which is an acronym for Achieving a Better Life Experience, which is similar to the 529 college fund plans.

“The funds that are in those accounts will not be counted against the individual for purposes of means-tested government benefits like supplemental security income and Medicaid," Fischer said. Families can place up to $15,000 a year in this account.

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