The purpose of a free and appropriate public education is to prepare children so that they can become independent, productive citizens that can function within the real world. This was the main thrust behind the reason congress passed legislation that requires children to attend school. The Supreme Court of the United States has decided, in multiple cases, that the driving force behind special education law is to level the playing field so that those who have a disability can compete fairly in today's world. Unjustly, this is not happening across the country within the field of education!
According to more than one expert within the field of autism, "three decades of research" including "two follow-up studies" have unequivocally proven that the key to providing children on the autism spectrum (and I would venture to guess many children with disabilities) with the greatest chance of success in life is "intensive early intervention" defined as "an average of 40 man-hours per week of individual treatment" that occurred for approximately two years but in some cases even longer than that. Additionally, these interventions should, at first, take place "in an environment" free of excessive stimuli. Supporting this position is a study by the Nobel laureate James Heckman. The children in Heckman's study received even more hours of intensive, individualized support (45 hours per week). Heckman's study validates what we learned over thirty years ago: at risk children require a bevy of intensive interventions by highly skilled practitioners in order to set them up for the greatest chance of success in life.
To further validate the importance of intensive early intervention, Heckmam's study followed the children who received the 45 hours of intensive intervention, including wrap around services, well into their adulthood. In short, he found that each participant had acquired the requisite skills to become contributing members of society. Each person in his study was gainfully employed and actively contributing back to society as opposed to absorbing public resources that they otherwise would require in order to sustain themselves.
No doubt that investing in early intervention will be a costly venture but as Heckman's study, The Life-Cycle Benefits of an Influential Early Childhood Program, proves the longterm benefits outweigh the upfront costs. Some of the long term benefits that were meted out in his study were a reduction in crime and costs associated with health care. Additionally, because these students received what they needed early in their life they averaged higher IQ's, which led to greater incomes and better health.
Armed with this knowledge, as a parent, you must lob this information as if it were artillery at the people who determine educational funding and policy. It simply isn't enough to demand more from your child's teacher or to complain to the principal. These professionals are working within a system that needs immediate redress. If you want to ensure that your child has better opportunities, which they are entitled to under Federal law! you must fulminate your position repeatedly by calling, emailing, and showing up on the doorsteps of your local, state, and federal representatives. Tell lawmakers that because over thirty years of clinically proven scientific research has demonstrated that children with significant needs require a minimum of 40 hours of intensive individual intervention per week by highly skilled educators you will not be voting for them unless they pass legislation that provides the required funding that school districts across the country need so that these services can begin. Tell them that the best chance children have at growing up to be as independently functioning of an adult as possible is determined within the first several years of their life. Demand action! Make noise! Accept nothing short of what is right for our most vulnerable citizens!
Fair is not always equal... it is every person getting what they need!