The Educational Identification of Autism Spectrum Disorders

The Educational Identification of Autism Spectrum Disorders Sharon Krupa-Sirotek, Ph.D.

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Diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) is increasing in our population.  Current data from the Centers for Disease Control show that 1 in 68 children has been identified with ASD. This new estimate is roughly 30% higher than the 2008 estimate. School staff members need to be trained in how to identify ASD; to create a systematic process to help other staff and families identify students who may have ASD; and to determine if these students are eligible for special education services.

As defined by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA, 2004), autism is a developmental disability significantly affecting verbal and nonverbal communication and social interaction, generally evident before age 3, that adversely affects a child's 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.

 A systematic process for the identification of ASD may begin with initial discussions between parents and their child’s general education teacher. Once concerns are voiced, other professionals from the school may become involved. If a disability is suspected, a referral to the special education team is recommended.

 A meeting with parents is planned where student and parent rights are discussed and parent permission is sought for a comprehensive evaluation. The team, which now includes the parents, discusses the nature of the assessments as well as the child’s strengths and concerns, and prepares a plan of action.

Individuals with ASD can range in abilities from gifted to severely challenged. Therefore, assessments need to address the child’s individual needs. Social skills, communication skills and restricted interests/repetitive behaviors should be assessed in every evaluation because these deficits are hallmarks of an autism spectrum disorder. 

The process continues with a meeting to determine eligibility for special education services. If the child is found to have a disability — that is, if s/he has an educational identification of ASD and it adversely affects the child’s educational performance — then an Individualized Education Plan is created for the child.