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Educating Children with Autism
Childhood Distintegrative Disorder). Because of its special characteristics, Rett’s syndrome is not specifically considered in this report, though children with Rett’s syndrome may require similar services to children with autism in some circumstances.
It is clear that autistic spectrum disorders have effects on development in ways that affect children’s educational goals and the appropriate strategies to reach them. It is also clear that deficits in language development, nonverbal communication, cognitive abilities, and other areas have distinct effects on behavior and outcome in ways that have implications for the educational goals of children with autistic spectrum disorders, as well as other children. However, it is not yet clear the degree to which specific educational goals and strategies are associated with particular diagnoses within the autism spectrum, such as Asperger’s Disorder, Childhood Disintegrative Disorder, or PDD-NOS, once factors such as language development and cognitive abilities are taken into account. Although experienced clinicians and educators can reliably identify the constellation of behaviors that define autistic spectrum disorders even in very young children, distinctions among “classical” autism and atypical autism, PDD-NOS, and Asperger’s Disorder are not nearly as reliable. Thus, though the identification of categories within the autism spectrum is necessary for some research purposes and is an important area for research, the educational and clinical benefit of making such distinctions is not yet clear. Altogether, the most important considerations in devising educational programs for children with autistic spectrum disorders have to do with recognition of the autism spectrum as a whole, with the concomitant implications for social, communicative, and behavioral development and learning, and with the understanding of the strengths and weaknesses of the individual child across areas of development. A child who receives a diagnosis of any autistic spectrum disorder should be eligible for special educational programming under the educational category “autism” regardless of the specific diagnostic category within the autism spectrum.
The committee recommends that children with any autistic spectrum disorder (autistic disorder, Asperger’s disorder, atypical autism, PDD-NOS, childhood distintegrative disorder), regardless of level of severity or function, be eligible for special education services within the category of autism.
With adequate time and training, the diagnosis of autism can be made reliably in 2-year-olds by professionals experienced in the diagnostic assessment of young children with autistic spectrum disorders, and children are beginning to be referred even before age two years. Many families express concern about their children’s behavior, usually to health