Educational Identification of Autism

Educational identification is a process conducted by a school district to determine if a student has a disability and to plan appropriate services to address the student's individual needs. The educational identification process will reflect assessments done by a multidisciplinary team. This process is based on an educational model. A medical diagnosis is usually given by a doctor or clinical psychologist. The diagnosis is guided by criteria in the DSM-V and based on a medical model.

Purposes of Educational Identifcation
  • Determine special education eligibility

  • Develop and design realistic instructional objectives and interventions

  • Establish present levels of performance to measure progress

  • Generate information about the strengths and needs of the student as well as strengths and needs of the environmental resources needed to support the student

Educational identification criteria are defined in Nebraska Rule 51.

Nebraska has also developed a Technical Assistance Document to aid with verification & program planning. Determining Special Education Eligibility - Autism

Frequently Asked Questions
1. What is the difference between a medical diagnosis and an educational identification?

A medical diagnosis is usually given by a doctor or clinical psychologist. The diagnosis is established to guide medical treatment and decision-making, not to address educational needs.

Educational identification is a process conducted by a school district to determine if a student is eligible for special education services and if so, to plan appropriate services to address the student's individual needs. Educational identification is based on an educational model.

2. Is a medical diagnosis required in order for a child to be Identified educationally as a child with autism?

No. While many states do require documentation of a medical diagnosis, Nebraska does not. A child may have an educational identification of autism irrespective of any medical diagnosis.

3. At what age should a child suspected of having autism be evaluated?

At any age. Research shows that early intervention has a significant impact in development for children with autism. If there are concerns that a child is not developing appropriate social and communication skills, those concerns should be discussed with professionals for consideration of a referral for an evaluation.  

4. Should the multidisciplinary (MDT) request and consider medical information from the child’s physician as part of the assessment?

Yes. Collecting information from a variety of sources can be beneficial in the educational identification process. If the MDT agrees that medical information will be helpful, this information may be requested. Parents, who are part of the MDT, should sign a release of information and/or provide this information themselves.

5. If assistance is needed with educational identification and/or program planning for a child suspected of having autism, where can the school find help?

The Nebraska Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) Network is funded through the Nebraska Department of Education to provide training and technical assistance to school teams with the educational identification and educational program planning. There are also resource libraries across the state where books, videos, and other materials related to ASDs may be checked out. Visit the ASD Network web site to find information on how to contact the regional coordinator.

6. Do we know the cause of autism?

No, at this time, there is no known cause for autism spectrum disorder.

Researchers are investigating a number of theories and most believe there will not be one single cause but a number of pathways to ASD including genetics, heredity, environment and medical problems. Currently, no single gene or gene segments or environmental factors have been identified. Literature on brain scan research has shown that there are “structural and functional abnormalities of the brain. They are seen as cognitive and neurological abnormalities that are ultimately manifested as behavioral differences” (Minshew & Williams, 2007). While individuals with ASD can improve markedly over time, there is no known cure for this set of conditions. Early intervention can improve both developmental functioning and the quality of life for the individual and his or her family (Eikeset, Smith, Jahr, & Eldevik 2007; Howlin, 2008; Rogers & Vismara, 2008). The most effective interventions at the present time are educational, behavioral, and communicative.

7. What is the prevalence of autism and why is it increasing?

There has been a steady increase in the incidence rate for ASD since the mid-1990s. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported that 1 in 36 young children have autism spectrum disorder (CDC, 2023). There are several factors that are involved in the reported increase including (a) expanding the definition from autism to autism spectrum disorder, (b) increasing knowledge of the disorder by professionals which leads to an increase in diagnosing,(c) more consistency by CDC’s Autism and Developmental Disabilities Monitoring (ADDM) Network in the method used to count and (d) an actual increase in the rate of children being born with the disorder. Most individuals with ASD face one or more additional challenges, including learning disabilities, psychiatric conditions, difficulties with sleeping, eating,regulating behaviors, and attending to an activity or conversation in an appropriate way. Researchers are also investigating co- occurring medical conditions, which have been observed in some individuals with this complex condition, such as immune system irregularities, endocrine disorders, neurological conditions (such as seizures), and gastrointestinal disorders (Coury, 2010).