Two Ways the Law Impacts the Education of Autistic Children

Impact # 1 - What Year Was Autism Added To The Individuals With Disabilities Education Act?

In 1991, the federal government made autism a special education category under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) and public schools began identifying children on the spectrum and offering them special services.

Impact #2 - How Is Autism Defined By The Individuals With Disabilities Education Act?

Autism, as defined by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), refers to “a developmental disability significantly affecting verbal and nonverbal communication and social interaction, generally evident before age three, that adversely affects a child’s educational performance.” This federal definition then proceeds to name traits commonly related to the condition: “Other characteristics often associated with autism are engaging in repetitive activities and stereotyped movements, resistance to environmental change or change in daily routines, and unusual responses to sensory experiences. The term autism does not apply if the child’s educational performance is adversely affected primarily because the child has an emotional disturbance, as defined in [IDEA].”

IDEA rounds out its definition by noting that a child who shows the characteristics of autism after age three could be diagnosed as having autism if the criteria above are satisfied. This enables a child to receive special education services under this classification if he or she develops signs of autism after his or her third birthday. Typically a psychiatrist, clinical psychologist, physician or other highly qualified professional makes the diagnosis. It would not be uncommon for the evaluation team to suspect Autism, then ask the parent to see a psychiatrist, clinical psychologist or appropriately trained pediatrician.