When J.C., a six-year old nonverbal boy with severe autism, first came to YELP, the school had placed him in a general education kindergarten classroom without any autism-specific interventions or staff-support trained in autism. Although he had been in the special education system for the previous three years, he hadn’t received any early intervention and did not have an expressive communication system in place. Because he could not communicate his needs, his violent interactions with school staff were escalating dramatically. J.C. had recently lost two teeth after an incident where he bit a staff member. J.C.’s mom knew that her son could communicate and learn with proper supports, but the school district was uncooperative and she could not afford to place him in a private autism program.
YELP stepped in to represent J.C.’s right to a free and appropriate education under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. Scott Coleman (’11) and Maggie McKinley (’10) advocated on J.C.’s behalf with the school district to obtain proper services and, if needed, a proper placement in a county educational program or a private school, paid for by the district. After an observation session of J.C. in his general education classroom, YELP met for a number of hours with district and school personnel, successfully convincing them that J.C.’s behavioral problems were due to his inability to communicate and that the school and district were ill-equipped to properly approach autism-specific communication needs. As a result of its successful negotiations with the school district, J.C. was assigned to an autism specific private school program, where his teachers were convinced they would be able to teach him to communicate.