Yes. Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a neurodevelopmental disorder that impairs a student’s ability to communicate and interact with others. It also includes repetitive behaviors, interests, and activities. These issues cause significant impairment in social, occupational, and other areas of functioning. Not all students with an ASD struggle academically. This can result in a school’s denial of eligibility for special education. However, academics are only one out of several areas that can lead to the necessity of special education and related services.
If you suspect your student has an ASD it is important to request an assessment from your school district. The school district has 15 calendar days to provide you with an assessment plan. Review the plan and make sure the district plans to test cognitive, development, and language. They should also conduct a parent interview, observational assessment (social/behavioral), and a review of the student’s medical file.
In order to qualify for special education under IDEA a student must:
a.) Fall into 1 of 13 categories of disability. Autism is one of those disabilities.
b.) The student must also show that they, by reason thereof, needs special education and related services.
To put it simply, ask yourself these questions:
- Does the student have a disability?
Districts are obligated to evaluate students in all areas of suspected disability. The law does not limit the evaluations to performance on standardized tests or grades.
- Does the disability affect the students’s educational performance?
The courts have established that a students’s educational needs include academic, social, health, emotional, communicative, physical, and vocational needs. (Seattle School Dist. No. 1 vs. BS (9th Cir. 1996) 82 F3d. 1493.
- Does the student need special education and related services?
IDEA defines special education as “specially designed instruction, at no cost to the parent or guardians, to meet the unique needs of a student with a disability.” Related services means transportation and such developmental, corrective, and other supportive services as are required to assist a student with a disability to benefit from special education. Related services include things such as behavioral, speech, and other support as set forth in 34 CFR 300.34.
Developing the IEP
The IEP must contain a description of the student’s present levels of academic achievement and functional performance. This portion of the IEP is used to identify the student’s strengths and weaknesses in academics and functional areas. Functional skills include skills or activities that are not considered academic or related to a student’s academic achievement. Instead “functional” is often used in the context of routine activities of everyday living. Social skills are categorized as functional skills.
IEP teams must evaluate each student as an individual. If the team uses a multi-disciplinary approach in their evaluation they will have a better understanding of the student’s strengths and weaknesses. Eligibility cannot be based on academics alone. If the student is a student with a disability and needs special education and related services, they qualify. Education goes beyond academics and includes the functional skills necessary to navigate everyday life.
If you suspect your student has an ASD and you have been denied services, contact Kristin Springer for a free 20 minute consultation at 925-551-1041.
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