2016 Legislative Wrap-Up: Education Budget and Bills

school girl 12670314Small

This article was contributed by Jennifer Mahan, Director of Advocacy and Public Policy at ASNC. It is the second of three parts wrapping up the NC General Assembly’s 2016 short session.

Teacher and school staff raises, education programs and supplies: The budget adjustments bill adds $240 million for teacher and school staff raises, plus an additional $10 million in merit-based incentives. This represents an average 4.7% increase in school staff salaries. Additional funds were added for school supplies ($2.5 million R), digital learning programs ($4 million R, 0.7 million NR) and textbooks and digital materials ($10 million NR). Cuts were made to central office administration at the LEA level ($2.5 million R), the NC Department of Public Instruction ($250,000 R), and grants to 17 afterschool providers from the at-risk supplemental funds ($4.7 million).

K-12 Disability Scholarships: Adds $5.8 million (R) to address the waiting list in the scholarship program for kindergarten through high school students with disabilities attending non-public schools. The program provides scholarship grants of up to $4,000 per semester for eligible students. The revised net appropriation for Special Education Scholarships is $10 million. For more information on who qualifies and how to apply for the program go to the website of the NC State Education Authority. A special provision (technical correction bill) in the budget expands the type of students who qualify for the scholarships. A reminder that only students from K-12 with disabilities who leave the public school system or enter the non-public school system in kindergarten or first grade qualify for the scholarships. The new requirements in the budget now categorize eligible groups based on a priority system which also expands eligibility:

1st priority: Eligible students who received a scholarship in the previous semester

2nd Priority: Students who were enrolled in a public school during the previous semester, OR  who received special education or related services though the public schools as a preschool child with a disability the previous semester, OR a child identified as a child with a disability in the public school system before the end of initial enrollment in kindergarten or first grade, OR (new) a child whose parent or legal guardian in on full-time duty status in the armed forces.

3rd/last priority: (new) a child who has been living in the state for at least 6 months.

These changes allow children with disabilities who are in military families (those currently here and those who moved to the state recently) as well as children with disabilities who left the public school system in previous years to attend non-public schools the opportunity to apply for scholarships. Because qualification for the program is complicated, we encourage families who think they may qualify to contact the NC State Education Authority directly. Please note that if applications for scholarships exceed the funds available for the program, children will be put on a waiting list until funding is available.

Student assault on teacher/felony offense, S343: Advocates including ASNC were closely monitoring this bill that would have made any “assault” (not defined in law) on a teacher or school staff a felony offense. There are a number of objections to the law: NC treats 16- and 17-year-olds as adults and charges, tries, and penalizes them in an adult system; assaults that result in injury already are classified as a felony; and for individuals with behavior disorders, such as autism, their disability may be at the core of the behavior problem. Making it a felony would not change behavior or address the issue of managing behavior in school. Disability advocates were able to get children with an IEP exempted in the bill, but many children with disabilities are not identified by schools. The NC Senate passed the bill, but the NC House still had it under review by committees at the end of session, and it did not pass.

Math curriculum changes, H657: This bill, which came very close to passing in the final weeks of the session, would have required changing North Carolina’s public school math curriculum, despite evidence that changes made in the past four years to the math curriculum are improving students’ math testing and college readiness. ASNC and other advocates were concerned that a new curriculum adapted for students in Occupational Course of Study or for those with learning challenges would not be ready in time given the short deadlines for implementation, that changes might require a return to older standards for passing college-ready math courses for OCS students, and that students enrolled in virtual schools would not have access to math courses. Advocates asked that students with disabilities be exempted from the curriculum changes. Conference committees appointed to sort out differences in the House and Senate versions of the bill were not able to meet, and the bill did not pass.

If you have questions about North Carolina policy issues, please contact Jennifer Mahan, ASNC Director of Advocacy and Public Policy at jmahan@autismsociety-nc.org or 919-865-5068.


Make 2016-17 Your Child’s Best School Year Yet

Elementary school children writing in class

It’s almost here again – back-to-school time! Are you ready? Or does the mere thought of a new school year make you anxious? The Autism Society of North Carolina wants to partner with you and your child for a successful school year.

Please take advantage of the resources we offer.

IEP-Toolkit-webToolkits: We have many easy-to-use, accessible toolkits to guide you through challenging times. Several are on school-related topics: The IEP, Behavior & the IEP, and Bullying. All of these free toolkits can be read online or downloaded and printed: http://bit.ly/ASNCtoolkits

Autism Resource Specialists: We have 17 Autism Resource Specialists across the state, standing by to consult with you. They are all parents of children or adults with autism themselves, so they have firsthand knowledge and a unique understanding of what you’re going through. They strive to empower families to be the best advocates for their children. Find the Autism Resource Specialist serving your area: http://bit.ly/AutismResourceSpecialists

Podcasts: Several of our Autism Resource Specialists got together for a back-to-school discussion. Listen in with our podcast titled “Back to School: What You Need to Know and Do for a Successful Start!” You can check out the complete list of available podcasts here: http://www.autismsociety-nc.org/podcasts

Workshops: Our Autism Resource Specialists also share their expertise through workshops, both in-person and online. Some upcoming webinars are IEP Basics: Frequently Asked Questions, IEP Notebook: Taming the Paper Monster, and Preparing for College Starts at Home. We also have many workshops in various locations; find the complete schedule here: http://bit.ly/ASNCWorkshopCalendar

backtoschool Coupon_0816_web2ASNC Bookstore: If you are looking for books and videos, our bookstore is the place to go. The ASNC Bookstore is the most convenient place to find the very best autism resources, with over 600 titles. Bookstore staff members are always willing to share recommendations on particular topics. And until Aug. 31, we have a 20% off sale with code BTSS2016! Browse online: www.autismbookstore.com

Chapters & Support Groups: ASNC has more than 50 Chapters and Support Groups around the state. Chapters provide a place where you can receive encouragement from families facing similar challenges and share experiences, information, and resources. Find one near you: http://bit.ly/ASNCChapters

Our blog: Of course, you already know about our blog because you are reading it right now. But have you subscribed? You don’t want to miss the educational posts from our Autism Resource Specialists or Clinical staff. One recent education-related post was College Options for Students with ASD. Use the search box at the top right to look for posts on particular topics.

Stay connected: Last but not least, connect with us! Sign up to receive our monthly email newsletters and the twice-yearly Spectrum magazine at http://bit.ly/ASNCStayInformed. Follow us on Twitter and Facebook. We are constantly sharing helpful information, and we don’t want you to miss any of it.

Still have questions? Please contact us so that we can help you find the help you need:

800-442-2762 (NC only)
Autism Society of North Carolina
505 Oberlin Road, Suite 230
Raleigh, NC 27605


2016 Legislative Wrap-Up: The Budget

GA Front

This article was contributed by Jennifer Mahan, Director of Advocacy and Public Policy at ASNC. It is the first of three parts wrapping up the NC General Assembly’s 2016 short session.

The NC House and Senate agreed on a budget adjustments bill for the second year of the state’s two-year budget, which allocates a total of $22.34 billion across state services including education and health and human services. The 2016 budget adjustments spend less than 3% over what the 2015-2016 budget provided and only adjust the second year of the biennial budget. The budget includes funds for the state’s rainy day account, teacher and state employee raises, additional K-12 students with disabilities scholarships, and 250 additional Innovations home and community waiver slots, while reducing the base budget for Medicaid to reflect lower projected costs for healthcare services. Changes to tax revenue were addressed in a separate bill, which broadens the sales tax base and lowers individual income taxes by increasing the standard deduction from $1,000 to $2,000 through next year.

The $152 million planned cut to single-stream funding for mental health, developmental disabilities, and substance abuse services (MH/DD/SA) remains in the budget. Last year, $120 million was removed with a provision to restore $30 million if targets were met by the end of the 2015-16 fiscal year in June. Those targets were met, and the $30 million restored. The same budget provision remains in place for this year: if targets are met, $30 million will be restored at the end of 2016-17. However, the overall cut remains at an additional $152 million from LME/MCO reserves, typically used for services to people without other health-care options.

There are a few special provisions that target issues for the intellectual and/or developmental disability (I/DD) community including a comprehensive look at federal and state changes to the I/DD system, a strategic plan to address behavioral health in NC that looks at gaps in the LME/MCO system, and a study on the rates paid for certain types of services. As we look toward the 2017 budget process, single-stream dollars will have a significant deficit that could affect direct services across the state. Overall, the health and human services budget attempts to address key priorities from the General Assembly and the governor with small expansions to crisis funding, waivers, and disability scholarships and the preservation of existing autism services in Medicaid and through the nonprofit funding sections, but no large-scale expansion of services or special education funding.

The full budget bill with special provisions and conference reports listing specific dollar amount changes can be viewed at www.ncleg.net; links to budget documents are in the left column. The overall budget includes technical corrections made in House Bill 805 that may not be included in the ratified version of the budget until after it is signed into law. In the sections below where “recurring funds” are mentioned with an R, this means that the program will be funded in an ongoing way (at least for the next year and hopefully into future years) and “non-recurring” noted with an NR indicates that funds are one-time and only for the 2016-17 fiscal year.


Health and Human Services Budget

Innovations waiver slots: The final budget includes $2.6 million (R) for 250 Innovations home and community-based waiver slots (formerly CAP-IDD) to begin opening January 1 2017, which were included in the governor’s budget proposal. Innovations 1915 (c) waivers provide services to people who qualify for institutional level care because of intellectual or developmental disabilities, but can be served under a community-based program in their homes.

Replacement of LME/MCO single-stream funds: $30 million will be restored to single-stream funding which is used for MH/DD/SA services and individuals that are not eligible for Medicaid. An additional $30 million will be made available if there is a surplus in the Medicaid budget. This is well short of the $120 million and $152 million removed in budgets last year and this year.

Governor’s Task Force recommendations: The budget reserves $10 million (R) and $10 million (NR), to implement the recommendations of the Governor’s Task Force on Mental Health and Substance Use. The funds shall be held in the Mental Health and Substance Use Task Force Reserve Fund, will not revert, and shall remain available until expended. The task force recommendations include increasing access to child crisis services.

Dix property and crisis beds: The budget includes provisions for the sale of the Dorothea Dix Hospital property: $18 million and $2 million in funds will go toward increasing access to behavioral health care hospital beds and crisis centers for children and adolescents.

Medicaid rebase: This removes $350 million (R), 7.8%, from the Medicaid budget based on lower than projected costs for health care and the number of people eligible for Medicaid. These funds were moved into the general fund to support other budget increases.


Special provisions of note

The state budget includes policy provisions directing how funds are to be used and often include requirements to look at how departments or programs are operating, including the fiscal impact of making changes to them. A number of provisions could have effects on intellectual and/or developmental disability services.

IDD Study/Study Innovations Waiver: In the budget, the General Assembly’s Joint Legislative Oversight Committee on Medicaid and NC Health Choice is directed to study issues related to the delivery of services for people with I/DD, including causes and solutions for the growing wait list for Innovations home and community-based waiver slots. Potential solutions to address the wait list that are mentioned in the study are funding increases, creating “supports” waiver slots, and utilizing 1915(i) waiver options. The study is also expected to take a look at issues surrounding single-stream funding (state funds for non-Medicaid services), the impact of federal mandates on supports and services, and the coverage of services for autism including any state plan amendments needed to address guidance from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services that directs states to offer autism behavioral services such as Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) or other treatments.

Rate study for residential services: This would study the “adequacy” of rates paid to providers for residential services, including supportive services such as respite, room and board, Special Assistance, transportation, and state-funded supports.

LME/MCO gap analysis and strategic plan: Section 12F.10.(B) of the budget special provisions requires the NC Department of Health and Human Services to develop a strategic statewide plan to “improve the efficiency and effectiveness of state funded behavioral health services,” including IDD services. Included in this plan are a determination of the state agency responsible for state-funded behavioral health, defining current and future roles of the LME/MCOs; a process for including measurable outcomes in contracts with providers and managed care organizations; a statewide needs assessment for MH, IDD, SUD, and TBI, looking at a continuum of care across services and counties; “solvency standards” for fiscal management of LME/MCOs; and anything else needed for the report. The plan and report to the General Assembly is due January 1, 2018.

Study of Medicaid coverage for school-based health: The General Assembly has asked NC DHHS to identify all school-based health services that are eligible for federal matching funds through Medicaid and report on the fiscal impact of adding Medicaid coverage for these school-based services not currently offered in NC.

Report on the progress of ABLE program trust: The Department of the State Treasurer is required to report to the General Assembly by December 1 on the status of the Achieving a Better Life Experience (ABLE) Trust program that would allow people with disabilities and their families to open 529 savings plans.

If you have questions about the North Carolina state budget or other policy issues, please contact Jennifer Mahan, ASNC Director of Advocacy and Public Policy at jmahan@autismsociety-nc.org or 919-865-5068.

College Options for Students with ASD


This article was contributed by Nancy Nestor, an Autism Resource Specialist in the Charlotte region, an autism mom, and a former teacher.

This is the time of year when many high school students and their families are thinking about the next steps in their lives – touring colleges, taking the SAT or ACT, and starting college applications. It can be anxiety-inducing as well as exciting. For students with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), there may be some special considerations. We will go over these, as well as potential supports and resources.


Is your child ready to live independently?

If you are contemplating sending your teen off to college, the Guardianship Capacity Questionnaire is useful to assess readiness for the independence that adulthood brings. The form, which you can find at www.nccourts.org/forms/Documents/846.pdf, asks questions about the person’s ability to independently use language and communicate, take care of their nutritional needs, maintain good hygiene and health, stay safe, live by themselves or in a group, seek and maintain employment, handle finances, and self-advocate. Completing the form will help you know what to work on this year with your teen.


College in a traditional program

Once someone graduates from high school with a diploma or an Occupational Course of Study Diploma, they can continue on to college, if that is a reasonable choice for them and they have the grades to support college admission. College students with ASD can still receive academic supports if they meet the following conditions:

  1. They have a current medical diagnosis of autism.
  2. They contact the Office of Student Disability at their college or university to share that they have a disability.

Education in the public school system must be free and appropriate. According to the US Department of Education, Office for Civil Rights, colleges and universities are not required to provide FAPE, free and appropriate public education; however, they must provide appropriate academic adjustments to avoid discrimination against a student on the basis of their disability. Also, if a college or university provides housing to nondisabled students, the same or comparable housing must be accessible to those with disabilities at a location that is convenient and with the same cost.

Although the education is no longer free, a college or university cannot charge extra for providing academic adjustments or for participation in its programs or activities. Once the office of student disability has been notified and given the appropriate information, staff members can work with the student to determine the necessary academic adjustments. Just as with an IEP, the adjustments will be individualized to the student’s needs. In the college setting, academic adjustments include: “auxiliary aids and services, as well as modifications to academic requirements as necessary to ensure equal educational opportunity. Examples of adjustments are: arranging for priority registration; reducing a course load; substituting one course for another, providing note takers, recording devices, sign language interpreters, extended time for testing, and, if telephones are provided in dorm rooms, a TTY in your dorm room; and equipping school computers with screen-reading, voice recognition, or other adaptive software or hardware.”

Also, the Office for Civil Rights states that “In providing an academic adjustment, your postsecondary school is not required to lower or substantially modify essential requirements. For example, although your school may be required to provide extended testing time, it is not required to change the substantive content of the test. In addition, your postsecondary school does not have to make adjustments that would fundamentally alter the nature of a service, program, or activity, or that would result in an undue financial or administrative burden. Finally, your postsecondary school does not have to provide personal attendants, individually prescribed devices, readers for personal use or study, or other devices or services of a personal nature, such as tutoring and typing.”

To learn more about students’ rights, go to http://www2.ed.gov/about/offices/list/ocr/transition.html.


College Through a Comprehensive Transition Program

Students who are graduating with a Certificate of Attendance or an Occupational Course of Study Diploma may be appropriate candidates for one of the Comprehensive Transition Programs. The “Think College” website, www.thinkcollege.net, lists  a variety of two -and four-year programs that are housed in universities, colleges, community colleges, and technical schools across the state.

They offer a variety choices for students, including on-campus, fully inclusive housing with the ability to take regular classes as an audit, partial inclusion in various settings, or living/working within a self-contained group. In some of the programs, the students will receive a certificate for course completion, but a few allow students to work toward a degree.

Because of the success of Comprehensive Transition Programs, many community colleges are strengthening their compensatory education programs to include supports for students on the autism spectrum. Compensatory education classes are inexpensive and sometimes free. If moving away from home is not yet an option, it would be wise to research community college options near your home to see whether they could provide reasonable supports. Many students enroll at the community college level to gain skills they will need for higher level classes and also to get basic requirements out of the way for their major at a university level.


Applying for Scholarships and Grants

Although there are no autism-specific scholarships available for North Carolina residents at this time, students with autism are free to compete for scholarships. Be sure to check several sources, such as your school guidance counselor, local organizations, parents’ employers, and the state. Many colleges and universities also offer scholarships.

Given the academic struggles that often accompany autism, many students do not have the grade-point average or the community involvement to be considered for scholarships. In cases like this, they can apply for federal and state grants. Before students can apply for these funds, they must fill out a FAFSA, or Free Application for Federal Student Aid at https://fafsa.ed.gov/.

To learn more about financial aid, go to www.collegescholarships.org/grants/disabilities.htm. When looking into a Comprehensive Transition Program, be especially careful because some programs do accept Pell Grants, but not federal student loans.

If a young adult has Innovations waiver funds, at least one NC program can use the funds toward education. Beyond Academics, a CTP Program at UNCG, is a state-accredited service provider and can work with any Managed Care Organization (MCO) in the state. Although Innovations funds cannot be used for class tuition and books, they can be used for supplemental support as required in their Individual Support Plan, which has been approved by their MCO.


Learn more

Upcoming workshops

  • Preparing for College Starts at Home: Webinar online on Tuesday, Sept. 13. Register now
  • Considering College? Prepare, Plan, Succeed!: Workshop in Raleigh on Tuesday, Sept. 27. Register now

Contact an Autism Resource Specialist near you.

Find books on autism and college, employment, and transitions in the ASNC Bookstore. Two we especially like are Life After High School and Smile & Succeed for Teens.


Nancy Nestor can be reached at nnestor@autismsociety-nc.org or 704-894-9678.

Thank You, from One Mom to Another



Sherri Krewson Garner, Leader of the ASNC Crystal Coast Chapter, shared this post about her gratitude for another mom and leader.

I want to express my deepest gratitude to another chapter leader! In 2000, after going through a divorce, I moved from Lincoln County to the coast of North Carolina to be near my family. I had been my daughter Sydney’s advocate since she was diagnosed at age 2 as “mentally delayed” or having a mild intellectual disability. But over the years, things didn’t add up; she just didn’t seem to fit in that category. When Sydney was 11, I heard about Asperger’s Syndrome, and this seemed to fit.

As the years went on and the struggles continued, I found a local support group and we started the Crystal Coast Chapter of the Autism Society of North Carolina. I started out as secretary, became co-chair, and am now the leader of the chapter. As a chapter, we started with a support group meeting once a month. Then as we saw what families needed, we added meetings on topics such as IEPS and school issues as well as social activities. Once a month, we have a social event called Friends & Fun to celebrate birthdays, and we also have Music with Mary, a casual music therapy class. Our biggest fundraiser, the Crystal Coast Run/Walk for Autism each May, raises money that enables us to do these special events at little to no cost to families.

Being a part of the chapter was a help to me and my family, but when Sydney was 18, she began running away from home at night. I would follow her in my car down the highway and call the sheriff. They told me what I already knew: They couldn’t make her come home because she was 19 and an adult. But was she? Could she make the right decisions? Could she take care of herself? She didn’t have a job and hadn’t graduated school. I spent nights crying, feeling that after 18 years I had failed because in every IEP, my ending goal was for my daughter to graduate from high school. It sounded simple, but it wasn’t, and it was my goal.

Sydney said she wanted to live with her dad, so in the spring of 2015, I obliged and had him come and take her to live with him at the other end of the state. Even though we were divorced, he and I continued to work together for her sake and remained supportive of one another. But he was taking on a role that was foreign to him; until you deal with the issues every day, day and night, you can never truly understand life as a parent with a child on the spectrum. Sydney started having a lot of trouble at her new school and in her new home life with a parent new to dealing with these issues.

Sydney’s dad called asking what to do. I felt just as helpless as he did; I had walked in those shoes but did not have an overnight fix. So I got on my computer at 11 o’clock that night and searched for the ASNC Chapter in Lincoln County, thinking they could provide some support. I proceeded to write an email to Ginny Hall, who co-leads the Lincoln County Chapter alongside Kristie Robertson, asking her to please reach out to Sydney’s dad because he needed help and I was a six-hour drive away.


Ginny and Sydney

Ginny was in my eyes sent from God! She helped my daughter so much, especially on school issues. They had hard times, but she never gave up on my daughter. She worked with Sydney’s father to find the resources he needed, including in-home treatment and medications. Ginny also became a true friend and confidante to Sydney.


Sydney and her mom, Sherri

This June, I traveled to Lincoln County for my daughter’s high school graduation and to meet Ginny for the first time. I had been feeling so guilty, and thanked her for all she had done. Ginny said, “It takes a village to raise a child.” It means so much to me that she took time away from her family to help my family. Ginny Hall, I thank you as one autism mom to another and as one chapter leader to another!

It does not matter how we get to the IEP goal, just that WE DO! I only hope I support other families in my chapter in the same way.


Have you found an ASNC Chapter to be your “village”? The Autism Society of North Carolina has more than 50 Chapters and Support Groups around the state. These groups are led by generous parents or family member volunteers who join together with other concerned individuals to create a welcoming and inclusive community of support for individuals with autism and their families.

ASNC Chapters provide a place where you can:

  • Receive support and encouragement from families facing similar challenges
  • Share experiences, information, and resources
  • Raise awareness about the needs and the abilities of individuals with ASD
  • Learn realistic, practical solutions for autism-related concerns
  • Feel welcomed, accepted and understood

 Click here find a Chapter near you.

Strategies for Solving School Challenges

IEP meeting

This article was contributed by Katie Holler, an ASNC Autism Resource Specialist in the Eastern Region and mom to five daughters, four of whom have autism.

Any parent can attest to facing difficulty at one time or another with their student’s IEP (Individualized Education Program). Perhaps you have disagreed with the other members of the IEP team or school staff. Or you might have questioned the team’s decision to increase, decrease, or exit your child from special education services. Diplomacy, relationship-building, and forgiveness are important in these situations. Remember, you and the school staff are bound together for as long as your child attends school.

Before difficulties arise, try to build positive relationships with the school staff. Never underestimate the positive impact of frequent, polite, and friendly interactions. I find that offering compliments to school staff when appropriate can help to build a positive relationship, which is helpful if you ever do disagree. Think about the times you are approached with corrective criticism: How do you respond when the criticism comes from a valued and trusted source? You might be willing to consider the concerns. But if the criticism comes from an individual who is always finding fault, your reaction might be different.

If you do have concerns, you can use emails, letters, phone calls, and meetings with school staff as well as Central Office EC staff to begin the task of cooperative problem-solving. A conversation about a challenge or difficulty need not be adversarial. Begin a difficult conversation by asking for more information or clarification. Multiple state and federal policies govern services for children with disabilities, so it is impossible for parents to know and understand all of these policies.

Ways to Resolve Conflicts

Despite our best efforts at diplomacy, conflicts may arise that cannot be resolved through talking with the school staff. Some parents’ first response might be to consider employing an attorney to address and resolve the issue. I caution parents to think again about “pressing the panic button” and calling an attorney. Once an attorney becomes involved, the school will limit communication with the parent regarding that specific issue. The school’s attorney will discuss the specific issue of dispute with the parent’s attorney. The school will continue to communicate with the parent but no longer about the issue involving the attorney. Calling an attorney may be best as a last resort when all informal and formal attempts at dispute resolution fail.

One way you can enlist assistance and support in communicating your concerns to the school staff is to contact the Autism Society of North Carolina. Our Autism Resource Specialists specialize in working with parents and schools at resolving and maintaining a positive working relationship. Autism Resource Specialists are all mothers of children with autism, and have years of personal and professional experience related to IEPs and resolving school-related issues. To find the Autism Resource Specialist in your area, click here.

If you cannot resolve a conflict with school staff, you can look for help from the Exceptional Children’s Division of the NC Department of Public Instruction, which oversees public school systems and enforces the state and federal protections granted to a child who has been identified with a disability. The Procedural Safeguards Manual, which parents receive annually, details your rights. It is sometimes referred to as the “Parents’ Rights Manual.” I have to smile each year when I receive the four copies for each of my daughters at their annual reviews. I will often remark to staff that I have enough of these manuals to wallpaper a room or two in my home. All kidding aside, this manual is very important. It directs parents on how to file for the following dispute resolution actions:

  • Informal Dispute Resolution/Facilitated IEP Meetings
  • Formal Dispute Resolution/Written Complaint
  • Formal Dispute Resolution through Mediation
  • Formal Dispute Resolution through a Due Process Hearing

Simply contacting the Department of Public Instruction’s EC Dispute Resolution Specialists does not constitute filing a formal complaint. I mention this because in recent months, some parents have elected to call and complain instead of filing a formal complaint. If a Dispute Resolution Specialist receives a call from a parent, they will contact the school system’s EC Director and explain the parent’s concern. This may or may not resolve the issue. But please remember, I strongly encourage you to exhaust all attempts to resolve issues and concerns before making a complaint against a school.

Seeking DPI Help

Formal Dispute Resolution/Written Complaint: Let’s begin with the formal definition of a State Complaint as written in the Procedural Safeguards Manual. “State Complaint – A state complaint is a signed written statement that alleges a school or local education agency is not following special education law and regulations found in IDEA, Article 9 of section 115 C of the NC General Statutes. This statement is a formal request for the EC Division to investigate issues of non-compliance.” It must include:

  • A statement that the LEA or other public agency has violated federal and state policies
  • FACTS on which the statement is based
  • The signature and contact information for the person filing the complaint. It cannot be anonymous.
  • Information about the child for whom the complaint is being filed: name, address, description of the problem, and facts related to the problem
  • A proposed resolution to the problem

Upon receiving the complaint, the Department of Public Instruction (DPI) will respond within 20 days. DPI will review the information, investigate, and request additional information from the school.  DPI will render a decision within 60 days of the complaint filing. To learn more about filing a formal state complaint, click here.

Remember, a state complaint alleges that the school is not following federal and state law, not just that you disagree with the school staff’s approach.

Informal Dispute Resolution/Facilitated IEP Meetings: If you want assistance from the DPI in meeting with the IEP team, you can request a Facilitated IEP Meeting. This free service helps to produce a positive and productive meeting during which the school staff and the parent are given equal time to verbalize their concern. To submit a formal request for a Facilitated IEP Meeting, you will need to document your attempts at meeting with the school and why you are requesting a facilitator. For more information, click here.

Formal Dispute Resolution through Mediation: If you disagree with a school’s decision, you can also request Formal Dispute Resolution through Mediation. Mediation provides an impartial individual with experience in mediation and working with schools and families to resolve issues outside of the courtroom. Mediation will usually produce a binding legal agreement between parent and school that clarifies the outcome of a situation or dispute. This is also a free service through DPI. For more information about requesting Mediation, click here.

Formal Dispute Resolution through a Due Process Hearing: If these processes and procedures are not effective and the parent wishes to hire an attorney, they can submit a Due Process Petition. When a parent elects this process, the attorney will be handle all of the communication and problem-solving with the school. The parent and student are now officially represented via an attorney. For more information about Due Process, click here.

Not every situation requires an approach detailed in this manual. As a parent of children with autism and as a professional serving parents with children on the spectrum, I strongly encourage a proactive, positive, and diplomatic approach with any and all communications with a school and school staff.

For more information on IEPs, see the Autism Society of North Carolina’s toolkits.

Katie Holler can be reached at 252-756-1316 or kholler@autismsociety-nc.org.


Focus on Successful Transitions at ASNC Conference


The Autism Society of North Carolina held its annual conference March 11-12 in Charlotte. We will be sharing information from conference presentations in upcoming blog posts.

Dr. Laura Klinger, Executive Director of the UNC TEACCH Autism Program in Chapel Hill, opened the second day of ASNC’s 2016 conference with a presentation titled “Autism Grown Up: Supporting Positive Adult Outcomes.”

One of TEACCH’s goals is to learn more about adults with autism, Dr. Klinger said. The changing prevalence of Autism Spectrum Disorder means a wave of adults is coming, and very little research has focused on adults and what services they need. TEACCH, as a part of the University of North Carolina, a research institution, aims to create new services and research the effectiveness of those.

With that goal, TEACCH has been conducting a study of adults with autism who were served as children by TEACCH from 1969 to 2000. The study includes surveys of the adults themselves as well as their caregivers. It aimed to discover what factors predict adult employment and examine the relationship between employment and adult quality of life.

The survey results of the adults with autism have not yet been analyzed, but Dr. Klinger was able to share the results of the caregivers. The survey included questions on the individuals’ living situations, education levels, amount of assistance with daily self-care, employment, and services received.

From those results, three main conclusions were clear, Dr. Klinger said:

  1. Conversation ability does not predict whether individuals can maintain a job. It does predict whether they ever have a job. What predicts very strongly whether you can maintain a job is daily living skills. Can the individual perform the following self-care tasks: grooming, cleaning, laundry, cooking, etc.
  2. Employment improves quality of life. Individuals who are employed are more satisfied with life, have a better sense of belonging, feel more empowered, have more contact with friends, and have less anxiety and depression.
  3. Significant supports for daily living skills and employment skills are needed for many adults with autism.

So how can we prepare individuals with autism for adult employment, which will bring so many benefits? The keys are to start early, teach daily living skills, and provide autism-specific supports in organization, emotion regulation, and social skills.

TEACCH programs

Dr. Klinger shared details of two programs that TEACCH offers for teenagers with autism to help prepare them for transitions to employment or post-secondary education: Project SEARCH and TEACCH School Transition to Employment Program (T-STEP).

Individuals who need more intensive support enroll in Project SEARCH during their last year of secondary school. The class includes internships at host employers and the support of a full-time teacher as well as a job coach.

T-STEP is aimed at high-school students who are enrolled in regular education classes, with a borderline to average IQ. The program includes a minimum once-a-week internship, skill-practice opportunities, and group sessions for one semester. T-STEP begins with self-assessments, so the individuals’ responses about their goals and challenges determine what they will work on.

Prepare Your Child

Dr. Klinger shared areas that TEACCH focuses on with individuals with autism in transition, some of which families may be able to work on at home.

Organized daily living skills: Students with ASD should learn to do the following activities independently:

  • Use a cell phone, make calls, retrieve messages, erase old messages
  • Use a planner/calendar system
  • Use an alarm clock
  • Use a washing machine and dryer, including coin-operated
  • Take medicine and monitor need for refills
  • How to clean in an orderly, systematic way, such as from left to right. Many first jobs involve cleaning.
  • Ask your child what he or she wants to learn. Then determine what skills are needed to get there? Plan it out in steps.

Self-awareness and self-monitoring: Students have a lot of experience with people telling them what they do well and what they need to work on, so teens with autism may struggle to initiate, inhibit, control, and generalize behaviors. They must learn to perform tasks without reminders.

  • Use a daily planner. The individual should choose what type will work best and learn to put activities on, create a task list, follow the list, and check off items.

Social skills/advocacy: For employment readiness, individuals must learn social skills are not just about friendship. Individuals with autism may think, “Why bother?”

  • Ask how the individual wants others to perceive him or her.
  • Discuss with them why they should bother. They may think that they don’t care whether people say hello and goodbye, so others should not either. Explain that people who have better social skills go further in employment.
  • Teach them social pleasantries: greetings, compliments, please, and thank you.
  • Sometimes you might have to tell teens to just fake it. “I know you don’t want to do it, but you want this job.”

Emotion regulation: It is important that individuals learn coping skills to keep from being overwhelmed and feeling in control.

  • Have them choose a coping skill that works for them: Go to a quiet area, take a walk, listen to music, practice deep breathing, tensing/releasing exercise, think or read about or see pics of things I like, practice slow stretching, say positive things, write in a journal, count to 50
  • Practice the skills at times when they are not stressed.
  • When they were kids, they could get up and leave some situations. That is not always appropriate as adults, so they need in-the-moment ones, and some that can be a daily practice to relieve stress.


If you would like to learn more about preparing your teenager for a transition to adulthood, see ASNC’s website. We also offer workshops called “Journey to Adulthood” and “Preparing for College Starts at Home”; find our Schedule of Workshops here.