As with any eligibility decision, the question of eligibility for special education under the category of Autism Spectrum Disorder is an important one. Special education can provide much needed supports and insight for students with disabilities. At the same time, the identification for special education can impact the ways a student experiences school, and the mindset of the learner and those around them.
Autism Spectrum Disorder is a complex neurological phenomenon that impacts people in vastly different ways. Students with autism have some common characteristics, but also demonstrate a wide variety of abilities and interests. We should be careful not to make assumptions about a student’s abilities based on the fact that they have autism. As always, we consider the individual student’s strengths and make every effort to include the student’s voice in educational planning.
To establish an identification for Autism, the following steps of an evaluation must be conducted:
- Review of existing information (including information from parents and file review)
- Developmental history documenting the behavioral characteristics of ASD (see below)
- At least 3 observations
- at least one observation needs to involve direct interactions with the child
- at least one observation of the child's interactions with peers in an unstructured environment if possible
- must occur in multiple environments
- must occur on at least 2 different days
- must be conducted by licensed, knowledgeable professionals
- Social Communication Assessment
- including receptive & expressive communication, verbal & nonverbal skills, pragmatics across natural contexts, and social-emotional reciprocity
- conducted by a Speech Language Pathologist
- Standardized autism identification tool/assessment
- Medical Statement indicating whether there are physical factors that may be affecting the child’s educational performance (if determined necessary by team)
- Assessments to determine the impact of the disability: could be cognitive, adaptive, and/or achievement (or all). If the assessment includes a sensory profile, it should be listed under “additional assessments”
- Vision and Hearing Screening - or review of existing screening data
7 Behavioral Characteristics of Autism Spectrum Disorder
For a student to be found eligible for Autism Spectrum Disorder, they must demonstrate persistent deficits in all 3 areas of Social Communication and 2 of 4 areas of Restricted, Repetitive Patterns of Behavior, Interests, or Activities.
Social Communication (must have all 3)
- Social-Emotional Reciprocity
- Nonverbal Communication
- Developing, Maintaining & Understanding Relationships
Restricted, Repetitive Patterns of Behavior, Interests, or Activities (must have 2 of 4)
- Stereotyped or Repetitive Motor Movements, Use of Objects or Speech
- Insistence on Sameness, Inflexible Adherence to Routines, or Ritualized Patters of Verbal/Nonverbal Behavior
- Highly Restricted, Fixated Interests that are Abnormal in Intensity or Focus
- Hyper- or Hypo-Sensitivity to Sensory Input
Prior to 2019, there was a significant difference between a medical diagnosis of autism and school-based eligibility criteria. The Oregon Department of Education (ODE) revised the ASD eligibility criteria so the school-based eligibility more closely aligns with a medical diagnosis, effective January 1, 2019.
If a student has all 3 of the Social Communication boxes checked 'yes' and 2 of the 4 Restricted/Repetitive Patterns of Behavior boxes checked 'yes', the team has determined that the student has Autism Spectrum Disorder. That does not necessarily mean the student automatically qualifies for special education. The team must still determine if there is academic impact and if the student needs specially designed instruction.
In the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), Autism Spectrum Disorder is listed with the disability code #82
Autism and Emotional Disturbance
A child cannot be eligible for special education services in the category of autism spectrum disorder if the child’s primary disability is an emotional disturbance (see OAR 581-015-2145). However, a child with ASD as a primary disability may also have an emotional disturbance as a secondary disability.
Understanding ASD - Resources from Columbia Regional Program
Evidence Based Assessment and Determining Eligibility for ASD - Resources for Columbia Regional LiveBinder - Access Key: crp
Can a student be eligible for both Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) and Communication Disorder (CD) at the same time?
- If the student has a language disorder that is a result of ASD, they cannot be found eligible in the category of Communication Disorder.
- If the student has an articulation, fluency or voice disorder that is not related to ASD, they may be found eligible for both ASD and CD (In general, ASD should be listed as the primary disability category).
If a student has a medical diagnosis of ASD, do they automatically qualify for Special Education?
No. Starting in January 2019, the eligibility requirements for ASD are more aligned with the requirements for a medical diagnosis of ASD (in the DSM-V). However, a student may still have a medical diagnosis of ASD, but not meet the criteria for school eligibility: based on social communication, repetitive/stereotypic patterns of behavior and sensory differences.
A student may have a medical diagnosis of ASD but they may have developed coping strategies so that autism does not impact their academic performance or social communication in a school setting.
In addition, a school-based eligibility team (including the parent) must determine whether the student requires specially designed instruction to access their grade-level curriculum.
We have documentation of a medical/clinical evaluation diagnosing ASD. May we use components from this evaluation as part of the district's SPED evaluation?
Yes. For example, if the school team obtains a clinical report completed by a clinician that includes results from an Autism Spectrum Rating Scale (ASRS), the team may use the results to meet the requirement for a Standardized Autism Identification Tool. It is important to ensure that the evaluation was completed recently enough to reflect the child's current performance.
What is the Speech-Language Pathologist's role on the evaluation/eligibility team?
The SLP is responsible for completing the social communication assessment (SCA). The other evaluation team members play an important role in evaluating core social communication deficits associated with ASD. Each team member contributes their insights in determining eligibility across all seven domains. The SLP's view regarding the presence or absence of social communication deficits associated with ASD holds neither more or less sway than the other eligibility team members.
When a child comes up for re-evaluation and was made eligible under the previous criteria (before January 1, 2019), can we re-establish eligibility using only previously completed assessments (i.e. "rollover" components from the previous eligibility to the new eligibility)?
Possibly. The required components of the ASD evaluation changed starting January 1, 2019. The team will need to do evaluation planning to determine whether existing data (from previous evaluations) align with the current criteria. Pay particular attention to the requirements for the Developmental History, Observations, Standardized Autism Identification Tool, and Vision & Hearing Screenings.
A student is transitioning from ECSE to Kindergarten. Do we have to re-evaluate using the new criteria?
No. A re-evaluation will be done using the new criteria at the next 3-year review. For example, if the student was made eligible at age 4, the re-evaluation process will be conducted when they are 7 years old (although a re-evaluation could be conducted earlier if the team determines it is necessary).