Home > Family Services > IEPs, iPads and Bullies: 10 Tips From a Dad Who’s Been There

IEPs, iPads and Bullies: 10 Tips From a Dad Who’s Been There

James Vaughan’s 11-year old son, Kian, is entering the 6th grade in the Weber County public schools in Utah.  Kian, who has high functioning autism, has been mainstreamed in public school since the second grade and has made great strides.  James attributes the progress to the successful partnership he and his wife have cultivated with the folks at Kian’s school.  James is one of many parents sharing his story, tips and team on MyAutismTeam.  We recently spoke with him to learn how he has partnered with his public school to create a positive and safe learning environment for Kian.   Here are 10 tips we gleaned from speaking with James.   Hopefully some of them will help you.  You can post questions and comments directly to James’ wall by clicking  here .

Please join the Family Services, LIVE Facebook Q & A, ‘How To Compromise With Your School District Without Compromising Your Child’ with Gary Mayerson, Wednesday August 16 at 7pm EDT.

(10) Get the Official Diagnosis As Early As Possible

Dr. Megan Farley of the University of Utah diagnosed Kian.  We didn’t get the official diagnosis until December of last year when he was 10 because we had been worried about saddling him with the label of autism.  In retrospect I would say the right time to get a diagnosis is “as early as possible”.  Having the official diagnosis in hand, along with some written recommendations from the doctor enabled us to secure even more services for Kian including technology assistance [see #9].  When we decided we wanted a diagnosis we had to be very persistent with our pediatrician to get a referral.  He kept assuring us that Kian would outgrow some of his developmental challenges, but in the end agreed to give us the referral when we were persistent.

(9) Be Firm, But Flexible

My wife and I always make sure that every concern we have about Kian is thoroughly understood by our partners at the school, particularly during the IEP process.  Talking about his speech delays got us speech therapy.  Talking about his challenges interacting with other kids led to social skills therapy, and so on.  It’s important to make sure they understand and address each issue.  I’m the kind of person that doesn’t take “No” for an answer, but you have to be flexible.  There have been times we’ve requested something for Kian that the school hasn’t been able to accommodate.  But rather than saying “No” they’ve always said, “I don’t know if we can do that, but here are other options we can do.”

(8) Communicate Frequently All Year, Even After the IEP  

The open communications continues after the IEP, otherwise it’s not a real partnership.  We regularly check in with Kian’s teachers and aide to make sure we are helping each other.  We also keep the focus of the communication on Kian’s development. We let them know things we are trying at home that are working, and notify them of any changes that could impact Kian’s performance in school that day.  We’ll say, ” You may see some distraction today – here’s why… .”  That helps them understand how to interact with him.  Similarly, we want them to tell us about the challenges they are having with Kian at school so we can then work on those issues at home.   The more we are open with each other on a regular basis, the better the job we do meeting Kian’s needs.  It keeps everyone focused on the goal of his development.

(7) Speech Therapy, Social Skills and 1-on-1 Aides

Before the second grade, Kian was in the school’s alternative kindergarten and first grade program.  There, he had a strong speech program and one-on-one time.  He flourished.  Now, in the mainstream curriculum, he has an aide and is pulled out of class for 30 minutes each day for either speech therapy or social skills integration. That one-on-one time has been critical, and the special attention from the aide makes it easier to accommodate Kian in the classroom.

(6) Ask If Your Child Can be Tested Differently

When the teacher stood up in front of the class and read off questions for the students to answer in writing, Kian couldn’t really respond to this normal classroom testing, but it was not due to a lack of understanding of the material.  When we asked, “Can Kian be tested differently?” the school was happy to do so.   He now gets tested on computer where he can type his answers — something he can do quite well.

(5) Seek Out Alternatives for Stressful Situations

Going out to recess was more traumatic than fun for Kian.  If that is the case for your child, ask if there alternatives.  We asked and Kian was able to stay in the classroom during recess so he could read or do some other type of project.

(4) Get Involved If You See Bullying & Teasing 

It’s not surprising that a child struggling with social interaction will get teased and sometimes bullied, but it’s certainly not acceptable.  If you see it,  GET INVOLVED IMMEDIATELY.  My wife is a spunky lady.  When she sees bullying going on she makes sure that the students and parents involved know about it and are educated about it.  But she does it in an understanding way.  She explains how kids are different from each other.  We’ve increased awareness about bullying at the PTA.  PTA is a great thing.  You’re mingling with other parents and making them aware of the issues.  When other parents become aware of the issue, they then talk to other parents, who in turn, talk to their kids.  We’ve received phone calls out of the blue from other parents saying, “I learned about the teasing my child was involved with.  You won’t have a problem with that again.”

(3) Start With The Goal of Building a Real Partnership

One of our goals from the outset was to form a strong, open partnership with the people at the school, from the Principal to the teachers and aides, to the Special Education Director.  Kian’s challenges were a lot bigger than we could handle on our own.   We let them know how much we’d appreciate their help looking out for Kian and making sure his needs were met.   We committed to be totally transparent and open with them and to help reinforce the right behaviors at home.
We certainly didn’t want our son to be a distraction to the teachers and other students, but we also wanted to make sure he had everything he needed to develop and grow.   The principal of our school recently told me why they’ve always been so open to finding solutions for Kian saying, “You cared, you really showed it was about forming a partnership with us, and you were always up front about the issues before they became a situation.”

(2) Reduce Homework and Leverage Technology
After spending a day with Kian, Dr. Farley immediately suggested a reduced homework load for Kian and suggested we use a computer or other technology to help him type his homework.  20 minutes of normal homework was taking him 1-2 hours to do (partly due to challenges with handwriting). Our school district had a special foundation that was able to provide Kian with an iPAD.  He uses the ipad to keep a calendar of his assignments and to type out his work rather than writing everything out by hand.  He also receives a reduced amount of homework.  Again, this is setting him up to be more successful each day rather than falling behind.

(1)  Reach Out to Other Parents

In the autism community, the biggest contributor to hopelessness is not knowing who to talk to and where to go for advice.   I like what MyAutismTeam is doing because they make it easy to connect with other parents near me and see which providers they recommend and what kinds of activities they are doing.  It’s a great tool to get those relationships started and then be able to expand on them.  My wife and I started a program in Utah called FAAST (Families of Autism and Asperger’s Standing Together) that meets monthly.  I posted an upcoming meeting on my wall on MyAutismTeam the other week and ended up meeting another parent that way.

– Interview Conducted by Eric Peacock, GM of MyAutismTeam 

  1. Joyce
    August 16, 2011 at 3:32 pm

    My son was not so lucky. His transition to 6th grade and middle school was a disaster and it caused a down hill spiral, now he is not attending any school. How do I get him back in school, homeschooling does not work for him. He is now 16.

    • August 16, 2011 at 3:54 pm

      We had some of the same problems. It has been a push & fight all the way with the school district. Many of the teachers and administrators really don’t get it. They perceive some of his behaviors as “bad” instead of “different” or not being able to read others emotions. I found out from other parents about bullying & teasing that took place. He was also easily used by others as they sat back & laughed when he would be the one to get in trouble. I am using What I Wish I’d Known About Raising a Child With Autism: A Mom and a Psychologist Offer Heartfelt Guidance for the First Five Years ” by Bobbi Sheahan & Dr. Kathy DeOrnella as a way to inform others more about what our family is going through. All I can say is keep reading, learning and stay an Advocate for your son. I’ve found many support groups on-line now that have helped me deal with these issues.

      • LynnRS
        August 19, 2011 at 5:12 pm

        Joyce, please make sure your child is emotionally healthy and safe before rushing back into a traditional school setting. I don’t know who you have contacted or the history, but the educational system cannot, legally, allow your son to maintain
        this unknown status. I don’t want to scare you but I know of a
        family that had a long battle with charges of “neglect and abuse” because their child could not go to school and the child was a minor. Many states have a great Virtual School program with the ability to Skype the teachers.Hospital/Homebound is another program in our state. Each state has different rules and different provisions. Get to the highest ranking educational person in the Exceptional Student Education department, the Superintendent….you pay their salaries through your taxes. They work for you. Don’t stop until your child can get the best setting you can find or they will pay for. Our state will pay for a tutor to go to the home, has a scholarship for disabled students that allow for customized education plans, sends therapists to the home or the child can go to the school to get therapy while education can happen in the home. When in doubt, go to the internet.
        Just keep searching the “system”. If you must get their attention, call a reporter from your local newspaper. I have
        found families that get their story in the press, get attention
        very quickly and get all that they are entitled to.Some families
        have been so neglected and not informed that it is so tragic
        that they chose to expose their plight in hopes their child will
        get what they are entitled to have. The ADA Act and the IDEA
        Act will surely help you arm yourself.

    • just a mom
      August 16, 2011 at 4:04 pm

      joyce, transitioning is one of the most difficult tasks these children have. familiarity is so important. my son didn’t quite make the transition. he would leave the building, hide behind the dumpster and frantically call me from his cell phone to pick him up. sometimes he refused to get out of the car when taking him to school. later, i discovered a teacher had been yelling at him daily. it was a nightmare. homeschooling was difficult and there was no socialization. the school was kind enough to provide him with homebound instruction. this was our best decision. he is now 17 and homeschooled. the stress of all this has taken a toll on our entire family. do what is most comfortable for your son and you. we find music and art therapy to be most effective. baby steps for all. we don’t rush things here…life goes by quick enough.

    • August 16, 2011 at 4:08 pm

      Have you tried your local Easter Seals? Here in Miami, my son 19 is attending the culinary arts program. They deal mainly in Life Skills which lets face it they will be needing more than say History, Algebra, etc. There he has positive reinforcement, guidance and increasing his self confidence. Plus, he’s learning a skill which will enable him to be a productive member of society. This program has been a real blessing. Good luck to you and your boy. I know how horrible the bullying situation can be.

  2. Karen
    August 16, 2011 at 4:09 pm

    There are many out-of-district private schools. Your son’s case manager should show you schools that are appropritate for him. Visit them, talk to the principal, check out behavioral plans and motivators, etc. I did that for my son. After being in resource room and mainstreamed in middle school (after self-contained class in elementary school), I felt the HS was not for him. He has social and behavioral issues, and he would lost and bullied at the hs. As a special ed. teacher in my town, I was in a “tough” situation when dealing with the Child Study Team (the head of it is my boss), but I stood my ground; I knew I had to be my son’s advocate. You need to request to see out-of-district high schools. Many allow kids to stay until 21, and they help them transition to jobs/college once hs ends. Good luck!

  3. August 16, 2011 at 4:12 pm

    Having a bad experience was not good for your child Joyce and sadly children with Aspergers and Autism, remember that and do not want a repeat. Talk to the counselors about your son and let them know about your son’s experience….talk to your son and let him know that he will be going to a completely different school with alot of different children. Sadly the bad memories cannot be taken away, but if he goes to a good school with good counselors…..they can really help out his experience alot with getting him started on the right track and possibly making his classes and schooling a good experience for him.

  4. olivia
    August 16, 2011 at 4:40 pm

    Thank you for sharing. I have a five year old boy, who was diagnosed with autism at age three. He now goes to school in a alternative kindergarten setting. I’m on the same page with you about communicating regularly with the teachers and making sure that they know whats going on with his behaviors. I appreciate the tips you listed. These tips will surely help me in the future. God Bless you and your family!

  5. Tiffany
    August 16, 2011 at 5:51 pm

    I’ve had trouble with the often whiching of the interventionist, my son is 4 and had been in programs sence the age 2. He will be going to K, in one more year and i really would like for his interventionist that he has now to follow him and is grade school. I think this would best benefit him in haveing the same person that hes comfortable with.

  6. August 16, 2011 at 9:23 pm

    When I read this article, I practically fell out of my chair. My son’s name is Kian, he is entering the 6th grade, and he has high functioning autism. He has been on an IEP since 3rd grade and has been doing very well through our school system. Mr. Vaughan is absolutley right about being “firm but flexible”. Parents need to know that they are the advocate for their child and should be respectfully upfront about their concerns. I feel it is important for teachers to understand that one child with autism does not represent all children with autism. Working together as a team will benefit everyone. We would like to wish Kian and his family a wonderful school year.

  7. Deb T
    August 17, 2011 at 9:40 am

    What is it with high school? My daughter was fine up til she entered high school. Then her grades fell and behaviors started. We did not even have a diagnosis til this year .. :( Anyway, now we are working with the schools and I had to get an advocate too. I want to put her in an outside placement at an alternative school. At this time now the school is doing educational testing on her. Shes there now. My advocate feels hopeful she will get an outside placement if we just hang in there and let him do his work. Hard though. Here it is August and we dont know where she is going to school. Its nerve wracking. On top of that I had to have a language eval done and that is low (well goes with the disablity I think). I went thru alot with her when she was small, hearing checks, special education and she has gone thru grades 1 to 9 without an IEP. Go figure nice schools and pediatrician huh? High Functioning I am told – with diagnosis of PDD-Nos.

    • LynnRS
      August 19, 2011 at 4:48 pm

      I am so empathetic to your plight. The good news is people were nice. The bad news is that they were either uneducated, ill-informed, afraid to hurt your feelings or afraid they would have to step up and meet the legal obligations of an IEP. I have had these scenerios and then some. You don’t need an advocate. The internet is the best source of info. Go to Wrightslaw.com for laws, Greatschools.com for info on IEP and tax deductions related to schooling for children with disabilities. Google IEP Guidelines. Google the IDEA Act. Google the Americans with Disabilities Act. Call a meeting with the highest ranking educational person in your district or call your Governor’s office. Have your story told in the papers.
      You are given the task of not letting it happen to another parent…..oh, PDD-nos….the term doctors use who don’t know where to find a referral to a Bahvioral and Developmental Pediatrican. The plain vanilla guys just miss the boat….as the ratios decrease for the number of children with autism, we will have to demand training in this area. Prepare yourself and if you aren’t sleeping, get on the phone and call the school system every minute you can. Their delinquency is unfathomable. You aren’t there yet, but there are colleges with great programs for students who are autistic, fully funded. God Bless and you have every right not to be quiet and kind. This is educational malpractice.

  8. Peter P
    August 19, 2011 at 12:23 pm

    Thanks for your story and your tips. My son is transitioning to a mainstream school at 3rd grade after five years in alternative programs and schools. He has been increasingly successful over the years (diagnosed at age 3 and schooled since then) and is highly functioning. The time he needs to take to understand and grasp as well as the social skills he needs to learn are our key areas of concern. My wife and I are nervous but open. The suggested tips are very similar to how we have approached every school year. It has to be an open and trusting partnership, but no one else is going to fight for your kid – and it is a fight from time to time.

  9. LynnRS
    August 19, 2011 at 4:36 pm

    Again, I appreciate your story and your guidance. Parents need to know that different rules apply, different laws apply depending on the state you reside. I have been my son’s warrior, not advocate, but warrior for the last 7 years as a result of ignorant and arrogant school systems. I have fought matters all the way to the Governor’s office. A parent must know the laws to keep their child safe and no one mentioned that your child is protected under the Americans with Disabilities Act. Your child is entitled to all the rights under this law and the IDEA Act, which encompasses the educational laws up to age 18 of the ADA law. I find the educators are catching on as the parents are becoming aware of their child’s rights. I ask every parent to continue to dialogue with others, refer good physicians, good therapists, good tutors and good ideas. I carry the information with me wherever I go. We will only change the ignorance through being brave and educated.

  10. Yaned Gonzalez
    August 19, 2011 at 8:34 pm

    Thans for posting this article, it’s true everything that you say, as a teacher aide can tell you that the most important thing is the communication between parents and the teacher, it’s important to work together to reach their goals, and I can tell you we always paid more attention if the student parents are involved, we have parents that they request an email every single day, about the lesson plans, activities and we love to do that..!! Because we know that is the only way to be success…!!

  11. Angie
    August 20, 2011 at 11:27 am

    i live in Canada. However my daughter was sexually abused in her life skills class by another child. The teacher defended her classroom like my daughter was the problem not the staffs supervision. I had to take her out of there class & fight with the school board to get her into high school a year early. Because they decided 2 years ago that she was not teachable they only allow for what they call life skills classes here.It is like send a child to kindergarten for the rest of her school years. The last 3 months of school this year we were promised home schooling but didn’t receive it. I am hoping this go better at this school this year.

  12. August 26, 2011 at 1:00 pm

    As parents who went through all the stuff associated with a child with “challenges”, we went the long way around solving the problem. We both obtained doctorates in pediatric clinical psychology and opened up a practice in South Jordan, Utah dedicated soley to all the challenges discussed above. We are private pay, so parents do not have to deal with begging a pediatrician to obtain a referral. Check out our innovative diagnostic/treatment practice. We are also available for free speaking engagements: http://www.earlylifepsych.com

    Dr.Frances L. Thompson-Licensed Clinical Psychologist
    Dr. Gary T. Thompson-Director of Advocacy/Education Programs

  13. August 26, 2011 at 2:12 pm

    Here is a blog post we just did about how the Transcendental Meditation program and how it helps manage symptoms of Asperger’s and improve a child’s overall experience at school and at home. http://bit.ly/rl82zO

  14. Sonia K.
    September 4, 2011 at 1:12 am

    There is a McKay scholarship that pays for your kids to go to a private school if the public school your child attends isn’t a good fit – provided you have an IEP. Not sure if it is only for Florida as I haven’t had to use it – my son’s school has been wonderful! But in case it is helpful….I just thought I’d share.

  15. Lynn RS
    September 5, 2011 at 8:27 am

    The McKay Scholarship is only in Florida but there are similar scholarship type arrangements in many states who followed Florida in this manner. The scholarship is named for the former President of the Senate of Florida who championed the cause for special needs children because of his own daughter. The McKay does have many criteria to fulfill and is far more complicated that depicted by the former contributor. The McKay will not always cover the costs of private schools nor provide therapies. But by federal law, a parent can take their child back to their districted school for all therapies…your tax dollars are still funding the school….use them. Also, the law allows parent to a free re-evaluation of their IEP every three years because most private schools who accept the McKay do not provide IEPs.
    There are not specialists on staff to do the necessary assessments. My child has been using the McKay for seven years and I have been a parent advocate assisting parents throughout our community. It has been trial and error…..but mostly, being informed has been the best Just continue to stay informed through the Autism Speaks website, IDEA Act, Wrights Law and many other well known websites.

    • Audrey Linn
      March 6, 2012 at 12:53 am


      I wanted to understand more about your comment “by federal law, a parent can take their child back to their district for all school therapies.” We live in California and were told by our district the minute we attend private school K they no longer provide services. Love to understand more about this. Thank you

      • Lynn Strype
        March 6, 2012 at 11:35 am

        It is my understanding from those who are in the “know” that because a person lives in a district and that real estate taxes, et al are paid in that district, that a child can still receive services at the school that the child (is districted) would have attended in a public school environment.Net, net, you pay taxes in your district for schooling that you are not using but you should be able to do so. Several places to check this out…google info on the IDEA Act,
        ADA law (private schools are responsible under Title III of the ADA) and WrightsLaw.com.
        There may be nuances in laws in your state so I would call the Department of Education, any
        arm that deals with disabilities in education. I know many parents that have their children’s therapy done at the public schools because the providors have to meet certain requirements to be eligible on the property, let alone do the therapy. In fact, I just finished an eval for my son by the public school system and they told me that he was eligible for services at the school. He attends a private school in another county. Hope this helps.
        Lynn RS

  16. September 28, 2011 at 4:39 pm

    This is a great article. My wife and I created an iPad case perfect for kids like Kian. It’s durable, easy to carry handle, retractable home button blocker to keep the child focused in an app and is and parent & kid friendly. Take a look and watch the video on kickstarter http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/trtlbot/the-shell-an-eco-functional-ipad-2-case?ref=live

  17. Amanda Biel
    October 5, 2011 at 8:13 pm

    Hey everyone! I just wanted to let you guys know about an awesome site for Autism apps for Ipad/Ipod, etc. Specifically, the mobile education store.
    They have apps about language buliding, story building, conversations, etc… all stuff that definately targets our autism kiddos. Also while your there, check out the main organization, A4CWSN (Apps for children with special needs). We found so many useful apps and resources here.

    Blessings to you!

    Amanda Biel

  1. August 26, 2011 at 1:34 am

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