It’s Autism Awareness Month, and autism is the fastest-growing developmental disorder in the country.
One in 68 children have autism spectrum disorder, according to Texas Health and Human Services. With more than 7 million children residing in the state of Texas, that amounts to approximately 103,000 Texas children on the spectrum — and 750 children in Kerr County.
The HHS notes that autism is defined by a set of behaviors — among them language delays, poor eye contact and conversation skills, sensory hypersensitivity, executive functioning problems, poor motor skills, sensory hypersensitivity and very narrow but concentrated interests.
Early diagnosis is critical when it comes to treatment — one 2007 study of Swedish children indicated that early identification can reduce the expense of lifelong care by about two-thirds — yet according to the HHS, no single agency in Texas is responsible for identifying early autism.
While various state agencies in Texas provide autism-specific services — including the Department of Assistive and Rehabilitative Services, the Department of Aging and Disability Services, the Texas Education Agency and the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board — few are aware that the best option for early diagnosis and treatment can be found at a local level and is absolutely free: Child Find.
Child Find is the legal requirement that school districts find and identify students with disabilities who may be in need of services, and is associated with a federal law called the Individuals With Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).
It states that any parent or teacher of a student in a school district — with child being defined as birth through age 21 — is entitled to request an evaluation for a disability, through the school district, free of charge.
Parents or teachers may request an evaluation for the child even if that child is an infant or toddler, or is homeschooled or attends a private school.
While the district is not legally required to agree to every request, if there is any reason to think the child may have a disability that requires services, the school is obligated to evaluate.
Following an evaluation, the school district must then refer or connect students with programs and appropriate services.
If a district turns down a reasonable request and parents feel there is ample reason to suspect their child has a disability like autism, parents are legally entitled to a due process hearing.
Applicable disabilities as set forth in the IDEA are: learning disabilities, speech impairment, deafness and blindness, visual impairment, auditory impairment, orthopedic impairment, intellectual disability, emotional disturbance, traumatic brain injury, autism, multiple disabilities and other health impairments.
Children with ADD or ADHD may also qualify under “other health impairment” or “specific learning disabilities.”
If you suspect your child may have autism or another developmental disability of any kind, you are entitled to have a free evaluation through your local school district.
Any concerned parent or legal guardian can call the Kerrville ISD Special Education office at 830-257-2203 to request to begin the process.
According to information from Kerrville ISD, after a referral is made, the parent or guardian will be contacted by KISD staff and appropriate personnel will be enlisted to evaluate the child, depending on the suspected disability.
If an evaluation is performed and the child is determined to have a disability, the staff will then meet to discuss outcomes, special education eligibility and service options potentially available to the child — including, if appropriate, an Individual Education Program (IEP).
Remember: There is no cost associated with this evaluation or these specialized services if your child has autism or any other disability.
It’s the best-kept secret in most counties — but it doesn’t have to be.