School Age

The resources and information in this area are focused on children age 3 – 21 years.  During this time, children experience considerable growth and their skills and needs can change significantly from year to year.  While children spend a large portion of their time during these years in school, there are many other experiences that influence their growth and development.  These experiences help shape  skills in all developmental areas and support growth and independence for the adult years.

Understanding Special Education

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) is a piece of American legislation that ensures students with a disability are provided with Free Appropriate Public Education that is tailored to their individual needs.

Service options for children ages 3 through 21 years include special education services through publicly funded education programs offered through a local school district.  The Oklahoma State Department of Education is responsible for ensuring local school districts comply with the requirement of the Individual's with Disabilities Education Improvement Act (IDEA), 2004.

The Local Education Agency (LEA), which is the school district in which the child resides, is responsible for establishing and implementing an ongoing Child Find system to locate, identify, and evaluate students, ages 3 through 21 years, suspected of having a disability. The LEA is also responsible for coordinating with Sooner Start Early Intervention (EI) Program regarding children transitioning out of SoonerStart at age 3. 

Prior to the initial determination of a student with a disability, a full comprehensive and individual evaluation must be conducted in all areas related to the suspected disabilities of the student. Throughout this process, it is the responsibility of the Local Education Agency (LEA) to ensure that the parent(s) of a student are given the opportunity to fully participate. The LEA conducts initial evaluations in order to determine eligibility for Special Education Services.  In order to be eligible for special education services, you do not have to have a formal autism diagnosis. Once eligibility has been determined and an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) has been written, special education services can include but are not limited to Speech /Language Pathology, Physical Therapy, Occupational Therapy, and Special Education Instruction, and transportation services.

When it comes to special education there is no one-size fits all; however, there are some things to know to be the best advocate you can be for your child on the autism spectrum. The purpose of special education is to individualize supports needed for your child to thrive as they develop and learn to their fullest potential by preparing them for further education, employment, and independent living. There are several advocacy groups/websites that can assist you in providing information and additional resources. You can learn more by accessing our Advocate and Form Partnerships under our Navigating Autism section.

The Oklahoma State Department of Education published a set of three handbooks including Special Education Policies, the Special Education Handbook and the Special Education Process Guide that describe the IDEA and the policies and procedures for special education in Oklahoma.  To learn more about special education visit

Positive Advocacy

Positive advocacy begins with effective communication. When we talk about effective communication we are talking about skills that allow for listening, maintaining emotions, open-mindedness, respect, non-verbal communication, empathy, and confidence, just to name a few.  While it is often difficult to put your emotions in check when advocating for a loved one, figuring out a way to present your requests and concerns in a clear and concise manner can deter others from getting defensive and argumentative.  Below are some tips to consider when preparing to advocate for your child in a positive way:

  • Be willing to hear the other person’s view before judging their statements.  Take time to recite back to them what you think they are saying so statements are not misjudged or misunderstood.
  • Look for common goals.  If all parties are looking to achieve the same outcome, it is often times easier to start there and work backwards on how best to achieve these goals.  In many instances, individuals can find common ground where they did not expect to.  This allow parties to move forward positively rather than from a place of disagreement and defensiveness. 

To learn more tips:

For more information on advocacy:

Transitions During the School Years

During the school-age years, children with ASD experience significant growth and change.  Children also make many transitions, including changing classrooms, changing teachers, and changing school buildings.  Some of the bigger transitions that children make during these years are from early intervention services to elementary school, elementary school to middle school, and finally a transition to high school and beyond.  All transitions, big or small, require intentional planning to assure success for the child at each stage.

The Zarrow Institute on Transition and Self-Determination provides a wide range of resources to assist in planning for transitions.  Many of their resources are focused on starting early to prepare children and youth for employment and success following high school.  As you explore their site you will also find resources that are relevant and useful beginning in elementary school.  A few of their resources are highlighted below.  You can find each of these resources on the Zarrow Institute Website,

Timeline of Transition Activities- This timeline is a recommended list of programs, services, and activities that you can use to begin helping your child prepare for the future.  The items listed in each age group are considered the “best time to start”; however, they are not the only time. 

Elementary Transition Resources- This section links to several resources that assist in transition activities for elementary-age children.

Student-Led IEP

Student-led IEPs are student-centered IEP meetings that give a child an opportunity to meaningfully participate in their education planning. Having their voice at the table is an important way to give them the role of making decisions about their future and practice self-advocacy. Just like any other IEP meeting, student-led IEPs also include discussion of student strengths and needs and develop goals.

Preparing your child for a student-led IEP meeting should be individualized to their age, needs, and abilities. The idea behind student-led IEPs is that the student has an opportunity to present information, give input into goals, and answer questions. These meetings also help the child advocate for themselves and better understand their strengths and needs. For example, they may be able to help develop strategies that work for them, such as saying they do better having a break after a certain amount of math problems are completed. Depending on the child’s skill level you may start small by having them introduce themselves and talk about their likes and dislikes.

Other ways a student can participate in their IEP include:

  • welcoming and introducing everyone
  • explaining what the meeting is about in his or her own words
  • reviewing past goals
  • stating future goals
  • closing the meeting 

Some students may even make a PowerPoint presentation or have a paper script in order to have a visual to help them talk about these key points.

While there is no set age to start this process, it is important to prepare well in advance before each meeting and make sure the school team is aware of the level of participation the student plans on having. If the family is not sure where to start with a student-led IEP, the teacher of record may help the student prepare ahead of time once they know that a student-led IEP is desired. Student participation should be individualized based on the student’s age, abilities, and comfort in participating in the meeting.

For an example of what a student-led IEP can look like, you can watch The Best Me I Can Be- Module 5.

One-Page Profile

The one-page profile can be a valuable tool for families to help communicate with others about their loved one’s strengths and support needs.  While it is often written by caregivers on behalf of a child, it is a tool that can also be written by self-advocates who wish to communicate their own interests and needs with others.  The one-page profile provides a person-centered description of a person’s strengths, interests, personal priorities, and support needs.  

The length of the one-page profile is exactly how it sounds – one, single-sided page.  The goal of the profile is to communicate key ideas and strategies in an easy-to-read format. 

The one-page profile is often talked about in the context of special education and IEP teams, however this communication tool is also useful outside of the special education world.  Childcare providers, community activity leaders, medical providers, support staff, family members, and friends are just a few examples of the people who may find this information helpful. 

The one-page profile concept was developed by Helen Sanderson Associates as well as The Learning Community for Person Centered Practices

For more information and examples, please visit the following website pages:

Building Friendships

The time children spend in school can create opportunities for them to develop friendships with their peers.  The key is to be intentional about creating structure and supports for successful friendship building.  It may also require some creativity and guidance from adults to help both sides of the friendship participate in enjoyable and meaningful ways.

When thinking about how to help your child develop the social skills often needed for friendships, it can be helpful to consider your child’s strengths, interests, and current abilities. 

Here are a few questions that may help guide your approach to developing a plan for your child:   

  • What activities interest your child? Is there an activity or the product of an activity (something your child makes, for example, a drawing) that your child could share with another child?  Are there clubs your child could join to get to know other kids with similar interests? 
  • What are your child’s current play skills? How long do they stay engaged in play or leisure activities? How flexible are they with their play? How well do they tolerate losing?
  • Does your child keep space between himself and another person during play?  How does your child’s tone of voice and volume during conversation match the situation? How well does your child answer and ask on-topic questions in a conversation? Does your child look up when another child is near the play area?  Does your child offer a toy when peers enter their play space?
  • How do they greet or compliment newcomers? How do they respond when others are in distress or experience joy?  How does your child show empathy?

As you answer these questions, you may begin to identify goal areas for your child.  Strategies for teaching these skills could include social narratives paired with role-playing, modeling, and/or video modeling. To learn more about how to implement these strategies and for more ideas on how to build friendship skills, please visit our Middle Childhood Webinar Series.

Connection, Friendships, and Joy

Going Out in the Community

Participating in activities outside the home can become a larger part of a person’s day as they grow.  Neighborhoods, schools, and community settings all present unique opportunities for fun and learning.  These non-home settings also present potential challenges for individuals on the autism spectrum and their families.  Challenging sensory input, unwritten social rules, and a possible mismatch of personal interests and strengths can all contribute to difficulty while out in the community. 

Individuals and families can explore ways to participate in personally meaningful community activities.  Intentionally planning and practicing the skills needed to create successful outings today will create more opportunities and a wider variety of choices in the future.  Small steps can lead to big gains. 

Our “Going Out in the Community” Toolkit was designed to guide individuals and families through a proactive, step-by-step process to prepare for a more positive experience when out in the community.  Please check it out below.

  Download the Going Out in the Community Toolkit

Private School-Lindsey Nicole Henry Scholarship

Children and families may find that a private school setting is a good fit for the child’s academic, social, and/or emotional needs.  The Lindsey Nicole Henry (LNH) Scholarships for Students with Disabilities Program was established in 2010 with the passage of House Bill 3393.  The bill has since been amended.  The LNH program is administered by the Oklahoma State Department of Education and follows the requirements of theLNH Act (70 S.D. § 13-101.2)

There are currently seven categories in which a child may qualify for the program.  One of the categories is for students who have a current IEP (Individualized Education Plan) and attended an Oklahoma public school during the prior year.  Another category is for students who have been served by SoonerStart, received services under an IFSP (Individualized Family Support Plan), and were determined eligible for school services during transition.  For more information about the other student categories and their requirements, including information for military families and students who have been in an out-of-home placement, please visit the LNH Scholarship Program website

Eligible students and their families will need to select an approved private school and be accepted by their school of choice.  There are over 75 approved private schools throughout the state on the LNH Approved Private Schools list, and the list continues to grow.  Families must complete the application for the scholarship and submit to the Oklahoma State Department of Education no later than December 1st of the school year for which the scholarship is requested.  The scholarship will be prorated after the date of approval if it is received after the school year begins.  The average LNH scholarship value was $7,056 during the 2019-2020 academic year. 

An important consideration to note, according to the OSDE procedures, is that acceptance of the LNH scholarship has the same effect as a parent revoking consent for special education services under IDEA.  This means that the student is no longer entitled to receive special education and related services from any Oklahoma public school district.  It also means that each Oklahoma public school district must treat the student as nondisabled for all purposes, including discipline. 

For more information, please visit:

Lindsey Nicole Henry Scholarship Program, State Department of Education

Home School

Educating a child at home is one option.  The Oklahoma State Department of Education has resources related to Oklahoma acedemic standards and links to home educator organizations and associations.   For more information visit their Home School webpage. 

Adolescence and Transition

During the middle school and high school years, the focus begins to shift for individuals with ASD to emphasize skills necessary to be as independent as possible during the adult years.  Additional legal requirements are in place under IDEA to assure that transition planning is included as part of the educational program.  This transition planning includes preparing students with ASD to live as independently as possible, have the skills needed to have a job in the community or in a more supportive environment, and as appropriate have the skills to go to college or vocational training program.  This section of the website is focused on preparing for what is called secondary transition – the transition from high school to adult life.

College Programs

Many parents are faced with searching for options for their children as they age out of the school system.  One option for parents and their children to consider is post -secondary education services.  College programs are now becoming more available to young people with Autism and/or with an intellectual disability.  Some offer a full 4- year college degree program with additional support to enhance success, while others offer a certificate program where students focus on independent living and social skills.    

As you explore these options, consider what long term goals you have for your child or young adult.  Does a college degree or experience fit into these goals?  Will attending a post education program change their life trajectory and benefit your child or young adult towards a job or independent living?  By answering these questions, you might find that a college program is the direction you and your child want to take, or you might find that a different path for you and your child is a better fit for their long term goals.

To learn more about these college programs:

Autism Support Program at the University of Arkansas  

RiverHawks Scholar Program at Northeastern State University

Pathfinders at the University of Tulsa 

Soonerworks at the University of Oklahoma

Myths and Misconceptions

ESY (extended school year) is only available during the summer months.  In reality, ESY is not limited to the summer months and can be accessed during any break in the school year if determined necessary by the IEP team.

According to the Oklahoma State Department of Education Handbook, ESY is described as Each Local Education Agency (LEA) must provide extended school year (ESY) services to students who need such services to receive a Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE). ESY services are those services a student requires to maintain academic or functional progress beyond the normal school year of the LEA and are not limited to only the summer months. The IEP team makes the determination regarding whether a student needs ESY and, if so, what services will be provided. This includes determining the details of ESY, such as what services will be provided, when and where the services will take place, and the frequency and duration of the services. Any services provided as ESY must meet the requirements of a FAPE. An LEA must not state that ESY is only for certain groups of students or say it is for all of a certain group. Likewise, an LEA may not limit ESY services to a certain time period or type of activity (Johnson v. Independent Sch. Dist. No. 4 921 F.2d 1022 (Oklahoma 1990)).
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ESY (extended school year) is only for those children with severe disabilities.  In reality, ESY is determined based on the individual need of the student, looking at several factors and not on their disability category.
Extended School Year Services (ESY) 

ESY services are those services a student requires to maintain academic or functional progress beyond the normal school year of the LEA and are not limited to only the summer months. LEAs provide ESY services for students with disabilities as determined by the IEP team (Johnson v. Independent Sch. Dist. No. 4 921 F.2d 1022 (Oklahoma 1990)). The IEP team considers the following in the development and provision of an ESY program:

1. The term “extended school year services” means special education services that are provided beyond the regular school year:

  • To a student with a disability;
  • In accordance with the student’s IEP; and
  • At no cost to the parent.

The goal of ESY services is to assist students with disabilities with the emergence and maintenance of specific IEP goals addressed during the school year preceding the ESY. These may include goals related to independence, behavior, socialization, communication, and academics. The ESY services for special education students provide a different focus than that of a general education summer school program.

2. The ESY services are considered in light of the following circumstances:

  • Emerging Skill: A skill is in the process of emerging, and the IEP team believes that with ESY services the student would reasonably maintain the skill; or 
  • Regression-Recoupment: The student would regress to such an extent and the amount of time required to relearn a skill or behavior becomes so significant that the student would be unable to benefit from his or her special education; or
  • Self-Sufficiency: An interruption in services would threaten the acquisition of critical life skills that aid in the student’s ability to function as independently as possible, thereby continuing the student’s reliance on caretakers, including institutionalized care. Critical life skills relate to those skills that lead to independent functioning. Development of these skills can lead to reduced dependency on future caretakers and enhance the student’s integration with individuals without disabilities. Skills may include such things as toileting, feeding, mobility, communication, dressing, self-help, and social/emotional functioning. 

3. Decisions concerning ESY services are based on collected data and written documentation. Types of data and information may include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • Criterion-referenced test data: Consider daily/weekly probes or pre-test/post-test data. 
  • Norm-referenced test data: Consider pre-test/post-test data. 
  • Anecdotal records: Consider information collected throughout the school year. 
  • Physical, mental, or emotional health factors: Consider the educational, medical, and psychological records of the student as well as the prognosis or judgments of educators, medical personnel, parents, and others that work with the student. Consider degenerative types of difficulties that may become intensified during breaks in educational programming. 
  • History: Consider evidence of past regression or past ESY services. The IEP team should not automatically assume that a student who has received ESY services in the past will be eligible for ESY services in the future, but it is a factor to consider. 
  • Data on observed performance: Consider data maintained on the student concerning performance observed in the classroom, during community-based activities, and as part of IEP progress monitoring. 
  • Teacher interviews and recommendations: Consider progress reports by teachers, therapists, and others who have direct contact with the student before and after breaks in educational programming. 
  • Parent input: Consider parent observations of the student as well as parent requests for ESY services. 

4. The ESY services are clearly delineated in the IEP. The LEA can meet this requirement by amending the current IEP. 
5. The LEA may not limit ESY services to particular categories of disability or unilaterally limit the amount or duration of these services.

Placement of a child into a particular classroom is determined based on their disability category.  In reality, the Individual Education Plan (IEP) team (including you as the parent), should develop goals and services needed prior to deciding on placement.  Representatives for all possible options for placement should be at the IEP meeting and discussion about where and what services should look like should only occur after the development of the goals and outcomes.

That placement cannot be determined based on your child’s disability category. (all children with a diagnosis of autism go into the “autism classroom”)
(As stated in the Oklahoma State Department of Education Handbook) 

The student’s IEP is developed prior to the determination of the placement of services and settings. The services and settings needed by each student with a disability must be based on the student’s IEP and unique needs that result from his or her disability, not on the student’s category of disability. 

To read more: 

An educational team at your child’s school can do testing to diagnose autism.  In reality, educational testing can be done by the school team that places a child into an educational autism category but that is not an autism diagnosis.

“A medical diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Disorder is not required to determine whether a child is eligible for purposes of special education and related services under the IDEA. Licensed psychologists and certified school psychologists are qualified to conduct components of a comprehensive evaluation to determine eligibility under the category of Autism.”

When a school team conducts their evaluation to determine if a child is eligible for special education services, they can use certain tools and observations to place a child in an autism category.  This placement category does not mean that a medical diagnosis of autism has been made.  A medical diagnosis would be required in order for insurance to pay for Applied Behavior Analysis services.

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