Services for Autism Students in Pensacola


As an elementary teacher for students with learning disabilities, I’ve spent countless hours navigating the Exceptional Student Education (ESE) program services to address the pressing needs of my students. Having supported numerous families with children diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), I’ve seen how overwhelming this process can be for parents.

So, here is my knowledge on how to navigate the ESE program in our district.

A common misconception is that a child diagnosed with ASD will automatically receive services in the school system. The primary qualification for services within the school system is that their learning disability or medical diagnosis directly affects their ability to learn. Working with students on a spectrum means working with students that need some support to those that require constant support in the education system to be successful.

But how is all this determined? What qualifies an ASD student for services?

The first step is determining if your child’s ASD affects their ability to learn in the regular education setting. A team is formed which includes your child’s teacher, administrator, and parents and sometimes an Intervention Specialist and/or Behavioral Specialist, depending on what type of services are being considered for your child.

The team will determine if your child needs intervention services to support their education and/or a psycho-educational evaluation by the school district. (SIDE NOTE: A parent has the right to request this evaluation at any time.)

Following intervention services and an evaluation, the team determines the best support services for your child. These services can include but are not limited to direct specialized instruction in the general education setting to placement in an Axis Points Unit; in-classroom supports to a one-on-one support staff working only with your child; testing accommodations that range from extended time to providing assessments one-on-one or even alternative assessments. Social-emotional supports, curriculum supports, independent functioning supports, and health care supports are offered with a wide range of leveled supports for your child.

That initial “staffing” is where they use all that information collected to determine the appropriate level of support.

Determining the appropriate and necessary services for your child can take time.

I know it can be frustrating and overwhelming, but have faith! All these steps are put into place to ensure your child will get the services and support they need to be successful in their education.

My advice to parents would be to ask your questions, keep good records, and attend all the meetings. These meetings are very important and the time for you as a parent to express your concerns, ask your questions and make sure you know how your child will receive their education. Read the handout labeled “Procedural Safeguards” these are all your child’s rights and services that they can receive. Read up and study, or ask your child’s teacher about all the different services that can be provided to your child.

I’ve witnessed firsthand the difference parental involvement makes. If you don’t feel you are getting the information or given the ability to get involved, talk to the team. Reach out and express what you want and need.

You will get a lot of information, and it’s overwhelming.

I’ve been in meetings and talked to parents who don’t know what the best thing for their child is or feel their child isn’t getting what they need. Trust in your team! Everyone at that meeting is in your child’s corner, and we all want to see your child succeed.

Often as parents, we don’t know how our child is doing day-to-day because we can’t be there; we can’t watch them. We rely on the teacher and support staff to paint that picture for us, so in these meetings, take the time to look at that picture. Really think about your child’s barriers to learning. While we outline and begin to paint that picture, we need the parents to help finish it.

You know your child best, so communication is your best friend! There is a reason it’s a team of people making these choices for your child.

If your child is not in the school system yet, you can contact Child Find. They will provide a comprehensive evaluation for any child above the age of three years old and have a meeting to discuss this evaluation. At that time, it will be determined what programs the district can offer your child at that time. There are early education programs for students with ASD, and I highly recommend them!

Another thing to consider if you have a child with a disability is scholarships. Scholarship programs, such as the McKay Scholarship, provide financial support and services for children with ASD. You can find more information on the scholarship here(Note: This program is changing its name to Family Empowerment Scholarship Program).

The sooner you can get your child into services, the better. Studies show that the younger a child with ASD receives social, communication, and educational services, the higher the probability of developing and successfully using these skills.


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