DC Metro Area Special Needs Identification Programs
I knew that something wasn't quite right, but I couldn't put my finger on it. When he was just two, my oldest had a pretty substantial vocabulary, was a natural at math, and memorized things very quickly. He organized and categorized, making complex non-representational sculptures using all the family shoes, then moving on to anything else he could find in the house. On the surface he appeared gifted, but there was something amiss in his communication, because he often had a blank look on his face when we tried to engage him in conversation.
His first preschool teacher said that she thought he had an auditory processing disorder because he would only respond to her if she was in close proximity and made direct eye contact, which mirrored what we were experiencing at home. We had his hearing tested, which was normal, and we were told that testing for auditory processing disorders was almost impossible with a child his age because they generally can't respond appropriately anyway. So we waited and watched, but by the time we moved to Northern Virginia last spring, I knew that we needed to do more. I searched around and learned about a program in our county called Child Find, which seeks out preschool-age children who appear to have some developmental challenges and screens them for possible inclusion in special needs services from the public schools. Early intervention is key for children with special educational needs because they have a better chance of succeeding in school.
I'm so glad that I made that phone call because our son is now going to get the help he needs. Observation and testing showed that he demonstrates characteristics of Aspergers Syndrome, a high-functioning form of autism, and now we are working with the public schools on an Individualized Education Program (IEP) for him while he is still in preschool.
Many public school systems provide these types of services for younger children, but most if not all of them depend on the parents to seek them out, and many families miss getting help early either because they do not know what is available for their child or perhaps because they don't know how to recognize the signs of a learning or developmental disability. Pediatricians generally go through a developmental checklist with the parents at well-child checkups, but unless the parent specifically brings up any concerns about certain behaviors, doctors are often hard-pressed to detect subtle signs in a short appointment. The American Academy of Pediatrics recently released two new reports recommending early autism screenings for children in an effort to identify children who need special assistance earlier.
In the DC Metro area, there are many ways to seek assistance for children who are at risk for developmental or learning disabilities such as autism spectrum disorders, and some are listed here. Please note that this list is not exhaustive, but it is extensive. Please contact the appropriate organization for your area, and if you know someone whose child is at risk or showing signs of learning disabilities, please share this information with them.
Federal Law Regarding Special Education
U.S. Department of Education - Building the Legacy: IDEA 2004, Provides critical information for parents on understanding your rights.
Training Curriculum on IDEA 2004 (free download, PowerPoint files) If you really want to get the nitty gritty on the law.
H.R.1350, Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act of 2004
Federal Special Education Regulations
State Level Information
Virginia Department of Education, Division of Special Education & Student Services
Virginia Special Education Regulations (PDF file)
Maryland Department of Education, Preschool Special Education Services Program
Maryland Department of Education, Special Education Child Find Contact List
Autism Connect MD, Provides stakeholders in the state of Maryland with an online resource that will assist them in locating and securing resources for individuals with Autism.
Contact Information for Screenings in DC Metro Area
DC Public Schools Office of Special Education Child Find
Loudoun County Public Schools Child Find Center
Fairfax County Public Schools Preschool Child Find
Arlington Public Schools Special Education, Preschool to Kindergarten
Alexandria City Public Schools, Student Services
Prince William County Public Schools, Special Education
Fauquier County Public Schools, Office of Special Education
Stafford County Public Schools Special Programs
Rappahannock County Public Schools
Warren County Public Schools Child Find
Clarke County Public Schools
Montgomery County Public Schools Department of Special Education
Howard County Public Schools, Special Education
Prince George's County Public Schools Department of Special Education
Charles County Public Schools Department of Special Education, Note: Site old, under construction.
Calvert County Public Schools Special Education Department
St. Mary's County Department of Special Education
Anne Arundel Conty Public School Division of Special Education
Frederick County Public Schools Department of Special Education
Carroll County Public Schools Special Education
Although not a Special Education professional, Andrea does work as an Instructional Designer and Education Consultant, and writes at her education blog as well as her cooking blog, Andrea's Recipes.