City Wide Autism Program in Minneapolis

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When I first heard about the Minneapolis district’s administrative decision to change the Citywide Autism Program (CAP) to a community based program, I was very surprised. I have always thought of the CAP as the most effective district-wide special education program in Minneapolis due to its strong direct intervention curriculum, enthusiastic highly-skilled service providers, low staff to student ratio, environmental supports and inclusion model. In addition, placement for students with autism has always been an option for parents. What could be better?

There’s been a lot of talk about the decision to stop offering this program as an option to incoming parents. And a lot of concern amongst those parents impacted directly by this change. From what I have heard, this trend toward community programming was not instigated by the Minneapolis School District per se but is being fueled by the Minnesota Department of Education (MDE) who oversees public schools. This trend toward greater community integration is also being felt in the Minnesota Department of Human Services (DHS) and other public agencies.

Several stake holders including:  Emily Goldberg, Heidi Klukas and Beth Hawkins, as well as Rochelle Cox, the Executive Special Education Director for the Minneapolis Public Schools, have eloquently described the pros and cons of the district’s decision. By reading these arguments carefully, you will understand more about a trend that extends beyond this particular school district and this particular program. I could not make more compelling arguments for either side.

As a therapist who worked 24 years in the Minneapolis district, I can say that it takes time to really know a student, understand their needs, develop a relationship and become an effective educational team to provide the best possible education for each student. This is a challenge whenever a new program starts.

If you have a child with autism that is entering a new school/program in the fall, keep in mind your importance as part of your child’s educational team and consider the following:

  1. You know your child better than others and which strategies worked for them at home that you feel will help at school. Communicate these to the new staff.
  2. Share the following information:
    • the environmental adaptations that need to be in place (classroom placement, sound dampening devices, quiet spaces for calming)
    • the daily routines/strategies that help your child get through the day (need for predictability, length of time for sitting in one place, need for hands-on materials in the curriculum, break times)
    • the visual supports that help your child know what is going on and what is expected (written/picture daily schedule, sequence of steps within a task)
    • the best ways to approach and calm your child when they are upset, and how long it may take for them to recover
    • how you would like to communicate about your child’s day (notebook, email, text)
  3. Review with the staff how the IEP will be implemented including how the academic, personal, social and self-regulation goals will be addressed. Get to know the people who will be covering the minutes of service.
  4. Convey a sense of security/safety to your child. How you approach the new school, circumstances and staff impacts your child. Even if you have doubts about the change, consider how you can help your child stay calm and feel secure in this new place.

Change is scary. This change will be frightening to some parents and staff. Your participation in the school and as a part of your child’s educational team is quite important. Keep informed, ask questions and make it work for your whole family.

Author: Kathy

Kathy, MA, OTR, works with families living with autism, using her expertise in occupational therapy to inform her whole family interventions. She has been working through organizations and public education for over 40 years. Read her full bio here.

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