A number of years ago, the concept of pervasive developmental disorder (PDD) was introduced to provide an umbrella term for autism and other disorders that include similar impairments in basic social skills but vary in severity or the presence of communication delay and repetitive behaviors. Because of the continuity across autistic disorders, this report addresses both the more narrowly defined disorder of autism and the broader range of autistic spectrum disorder including pervasive developmental disorder—not otherwise specified (PDD-NOS), Asperger’s disorder, and childhood disintegrative disorder. Autistic spectrum disorders are unique in their pattern of deficits and areas of relative strengths. Because of the special characteristics of Rett’s syndrome (i.e., its onset and pattern of deficits), it is not specifically considered in this report. Children with Rett’s syndrome, however, may require similar services to children with autism in some circumstances.
Education, both directly of children, and of parents and teachers, is currently the primary form of treatment in autism. For the purposes of this report, education is defined as the fostering of acquisition of skills or knowledge—including not only academic learning, but also socialization, adaptive skills, language and communication, and reduction of behavior problems—to assist a child to develop independence and personal responsibility. Education includes services that foster acquisition of skills and knowledge, offered by public and private schools; infant, toddler, preschool and early education programs; and other public and private service providers. Young children are defined here as children 8 years or younger. Because children with autism are at high risk for other impairments, educational planning must address both the needs typically associated with autistic spectrum disorders and needs associated with accompanying disabilities.
Education of children with autism was accepted as a public responsibility as part of the Education Act of All Handicapped Children in 1975. Yet today, 25 years later, despite the federal mandate for appropriate education and intervention services, the goals, methods, and resources available vary considerably from state to state and from school system to school system. In the last few years, courts have become increasingly active forces in determining the methods applied and the resources allocated by school systems for the education of children with autistic spectrum disorders.
Although there is a very substantial body of research on the treatment and education of these children (Rumsey et al., 2000), this work has not often been clearly integrated into educational decision-making and policy at local or state levels. For example, many treatment approaches and