Including the Student with ASD in the Development of the IEP


It’s August and sometime this month you will start to think about the upcoming school year. Whether you are a parent of a child with an ASD or an educator who will be supporting a student with ASD in your school, your thoughts may turn to the strategies you will employ to help achieve a successful year.

We suggest you consider how you might include your child or student in the development of his/her individual educational program (IEP), as part of the process you employ to educate him or her about his/her individual learning differences, strengths and challenges. It may not be necessary to use the “Autism” label in this process if that is something you feel will worry or confuse the child. Many families and school teams focus instead on the fact that all learners are unique and that some learners may need extra support to help them compensate for or overcome their learning challenges. They balance this information by highlighting the student’s strengths, ensuring that the child’s strengths and interests are considered when developing the IEP, and that the child feels good about what they can do.

On self awareness:

“Ideally, it starts by setting the preconditions when the child is young. An important precondition for successful self-advocacy and disclosure is self-awareness. People with ASD need to understand how autism affects their interactions with others and the environment. Also, they need to be familiar with their strengths and challenges. A parent or caretaker can do this with a child from a very early age. In fact, the earlier a child has an explanation about his differences, the better off he will be.”

From “The Secrets of Self-Advocacy: How to Make Sure You Take Care of You” by Stephen M. Shore, Autism Advocate, 2006, Vol. 44, No. 4 retrieved from…., July, 2013

How can you approach the goals of self-awareness and eventual self-advocacy with the student with ASD?

Consider these tips:

  1. Use age appropriate material to help your child understand the concept of individual differences. If your student has significantly impaired language abilities and/or a limited theory of mind, you might do this with pictures.A student who uses pictures to communicate, may participate in an IEP meeting by showing his own preference profile during the meeting (see “Josh” above). He may be shown where his preferred activities might be included on his daily schedule if a sample schedule has been prepared prior to the IEP meeting.An older or more literate student may benefit from being exposed to materials related to a variety of non-specific learning disabilities.
    Here are some examples:

    A variety of Autism specific self- awareness materials may also be helpful:

    • Asperger’s, What Does It Mean to Me by Catherine Faherty
    • Freaks, Geeks and Asperger’s Syndrome by Luke Jackson
    • The Survival Guide for Kids with Autism Spectrum Disorders (And Their Parents) by Elizabeth Verdick and Elizabeth Reeve
    • Different Like Me: My book of autism heroes by Jennifer Elder
  2. Ensure positive parent/teacher collaboration. It is important that the educator understand what the child knows and understands about his or her differences, and what he or she is, as of yet unaware. A parent/teacher/case manager meeting prior to the development of the IEP can be helpful to determine in what ways the student should be included in the process.
  3. Create an agenda for the IEP meeting that provides opportunities for the student’s input. Some students may only attend the beginning of a meeting, to share their strengths or preferences, while more sophisticated students may attend the entire meeting and provide input on the specific accommodations they feel they will need to be successful. In either case, try to create an opportunity for the student to ask questions (Who will help me? Who will I sit beside?, etc.)
  4. Provide instruction to the student prior to the IEP meeting about what he will be expected to do, and why his input is important. There are some good resources on the website I’m Determined, including: Understanding My IEP which help de-mystify some of the typical vocabulary and processes. For older students go to for younger students see the document at . As much as possible, help the student understand why his input is important. It is critical that he see the process as supportive and does not become overwhelmed by a long list of all the things he can’t yet do.
  5. Always start and end the meetings with a “positive” about the student.

Many teams fear that “too much” disclosure regarding a student’s challenges may lead to a lowering of expectations by the student or the team. A worst-case scenario for many would be the student who refuses to attempt anything he finds difficult using his “autism” as an excuse. This can be avoided by letting the student know that everyone finds something difficult and that accommodations and adaptations are provided to support success, not highlight differences, and that as an individual, he has many positive attributes (strengths and interests).

On Self-Advocacy:

Self-advocacy involves knowing when and how to approach others to negotiate desired goals, and to build better mutual understanding and trust, fulfillment and productivity. Successful self-advocacy often involves an amount of disclosure about oneself to reach the goal of better mutual understanding. In other words, it is sometimes needed in order to explain why an accommodation is necessary or helpful.

From “The Secrets of Self-Advocacy: How to Make Sure You Take Care of You” by Stephen M. Shore, Autism Advocate, 2006, Vol. 44, No. 4 retrieved from, May, 2022

For more information on how successful adults with ASD have learned about their own strengths and challenges related to their ASD, and have dealt with barriers they have encountered, we highly recommend the book, “Ask and Tell: Self-Advocacy and Disclosure for People on the Autism Spectrum” by Stephen Shore.


Additional Resources:

Different Like Me: My Book of Autism Heroes Hardcover – December 16, 2005

The Survival Guide for Kids with Autism Spectrum Disorders (And Their Parents) Paperback – March 22, 2012

Freaks, Geeks and Aspergers Syndrome: A User Guide to Adolescence Paperback – August 15, 2002