Autism is prevalent across the world, although tracking rates can vary due to differences in reporting. In 2021, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued its Autism prevalence report.

  • The report concluded that the prevalence of Autism had risen to 1 in every 44 – more than twice as great as the 2004 rate of 1 in 125.
  • Children who receive an Autism diagnosis by age 4, are fifty times more likely to receive services. 
  • The 2021 report noted that more White and Black children were identified with Autism than Hispanic children.
  • The 2020 report was the first to indicate that, on average, White and Black children were equally as likely to have a diagnosis by the age of 8 years, in the sample studied by the CDC.
  • Previous studies have shown, that children of color may still receive their diagnoses later than White children. Stigma, lack of access to healthcare services due to non-citizenship or low-income, and non-English primary language are potential barriers to the early identification of Hispanic children and children of color with Autism. 
  • Currently, boys are also approximately 4 times more likely to have an Autism diagnosis than girls of the same age.
  • However, recent research suggests that girls may not display characteristics of Autism in the same way as boys and might go undiagnosed because of their different presentation.

The autism experience. Autism Society. (2022, February 18). Retrieved February 17, 2023, from

Federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act

Autism shall mean a developmental disability which significantly affects verbal and nonverbal communication and social interaction, generally evident before the age of three, that adversely affects educational performance. Other characteristics often associated with autism are engagement in repetitive activities and stereotyped movements, resistance to environmental change or change in daily routines, and unusual responses to sensory experiences. The term does not include children with characteristics of the disability category "behavioral disorder."

Nebraska Department of Education Title 92, Nebraska Administrative Code, Chapter 51  pdf

ASD is a lifelong neurodevelopmental disability recognized by the manifestation of behavioral characteristics across multiple areas of functioning.

Characteristics are observed, to varying degrees, in social relatedness, communication, pattern and range of interests, and sensory responsiveness. These characteristics are generally evident during the child's early years.

In Nebraska Rule 51, the definition of ASD is sufficiently broad to include those children exhibiting a range of characteristics related to ASD.

As noted previously, determining eligibility for special education under the autism disability category requires that the criteria established in the Nebraska Department of Education's Rule 51 are met. A medical diagnosis of autism spectrum is based upon criteria established in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th edition (DSM-5). DSM-5 includes a new system of determining severity see chart below. For more information regarding the DSM-5 diagnostic criteria please visit here

What is ASD?

Autism Spectrum Disorder is group of developmental disabilities that can affect the way individuals:

  • understand and use language to interact and communicate with people
  • understand and relate in typical ways to people, events, and objects in the environment
  • understand and respond appropriately to sensory stimuli--pain, hearing, taste, etc.
  • learn and think similar to typically developing children

ASD is a “spectrum disorder”, which means that people with an ASD will be affected in different ways ranging from very mild to severe. Individuals with ASD share some similiar symptoms and characteristics such as difficulty with social interactions. There are however differences in when symptoms start, how severe they are and the exact nature of the symptoms. (CDC, 2014)

Autism exists on a continuum from mild to severe. Learning, responding, and thinking differences result in confusion, frustration, and anxiety expressed in withdrawal, repetitive behaviors, and, sometimes, in aggression or self-injury.

Autism can co-occur with other disabilities.

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, All children with ASD demonstrate deficits in:

  • Social Interaction
  • Verbal and Nonverbal Comunication
  • Repetitive Behaviors or Interests

State Definition: Rule 51 [ download ]

To qualify for special education services in the category of autism the child must have a developmental disability which significantly affects verbal and non-verbal communication and social interaction, is generally evident before age three, and that affect the child's educational performance.

Other characteristics often associated with autism are engagement in repetitive activities and stereotyped movements, resistance to environmental change or changes in daily routines, and unusual response to sensory experiences.

Autism does not apply if a child's educational performance is adversely affected primarily because the child has a behavior disorder as defined in 92 NAC 51-006.04C. A child who manifests the characteristics of autism after age three could be identified as having autism if the other criteria in 92 NAC 51-006.04B1 are met.

Autism Society of America. (1999). Shaping our Future: Educating Children with Autism, pp.8-9.

Center for Disease Control and Prevention. (2014) What is the Prevalence of ASDs? Retrieved 09/22/14 from

National Research Council (2001). Educating Children with Autism. Committee on Educational Interventions for Children with Autism. Catherine Lord and James P. McGee, eds. Division of Behavioral and Social Sciences and Education. Washington, DC: National Academy Press.

Nebraska Department of Education. (May, 2010). Nebraska Administrative Code (92 NAC 51, Title 92) (Rev. ed.).

Special Education Advisory Council Ad Hoc Committee on Autism Spectrum Disorders. (May 2008). Verification Guidelines for Children with Disabilities. Lincoln, NE: Nebraska Department of Education.