Autism: Education and Evaluation

— Autism Society
Updated on Jul 28, 2009

When you have a child with a disability, it may seem that you've been dropped in the middle of a whirlwind of information and buzzwords. You'll hear things such as inclusion, behavior modification, functional analysis, IDEA, IEP, due process, evaluation and sensory integration. There are lengthy federal regulations that need to be read and understood, and disability magazines filled with one view or another about controversial issues. Some of the decisions you'll need to make may come from areas where you don't feel adequately informed. Of these important decisions, many will be in the area of education.

Educating children with autism is a challenge for both parents and teachers. These children are individuals first and foremost with unique strengths and weaknesses. Some may be of average to above-average intelligence, while others may be below average. Academic goals need to be tailored to that individual's intellectual ability and functioning level.


The first step in obtaining special education services is for your child to be evaluated. The evaluation can be done when your child is first suspected of having a disability (pre-placement evaluation) or when your child's level of functioning changes in one or more areas (re-evaluation). There are two ways in which a child can be evaluated under the regulations of IDEIA:

  • The parent can request an evaluation by calling or writing the director of special education or the principal of the child's school. If you call, also put your request in writing, keeping a copy for yourself. This should be part of your routine communication with anyone concerning your child's education. Follow-up all telephone calls with a letter summarizing the conversation. This way, the other party has the opportunity to make corrections to any misunderstood information, and you have a paper trail in case of a disagreement with the school system.
  • The school system may also determine that an evaluation is necessary. If so, they must receive written permission from the parent before the evaluation can be conducted.

An evaluation should be conducted by a multidisciplinary team or group of persons, which must include at least one teacher or other specialist with specific knowledge in the area of the suspected disability. IDEIA requires that no single procedure be used as the sole criterion for determining an appropriate education program for a child. The law also requires that the child be assessed in all areas related to the suspected disability, including but not limited to, health, vision, hearing, communication abilities, motor skills, and social and/or emotional status.

If the parents disagree with the results of the evaluation, they may choose to obtain an independent evaluation at public or private expense. A list of professionals that meet state requirements may be requested from your school or you can choose one on your own. If the professional chosen meets appropriate criteria set up by the state, then the school must consider his/her evaluation in developing an IEP.

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