What is the role of special education in the treatment of autism spectrum disorder (ASD)?

Updated: Sep 30, 2019
  • Author: James Robert Brasic, MD, MPH; Chief Editor: Caroly Pataki, MD  more...
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Special education is central to the treatment of autistic disorder. Although parents may choose to use various experimental treatments, including medication, they should concurrently use intensive individual special education by an educator familiar with instructing children who have autistic disorder or a related condition. Intensive behavioral interventions, instituted as early as possible, are indicated for every child in whom autistic disorder is suspected. [147, 148]

The Education for All Handicapped Children Act of 1975 requires free and appropriate public education for all children, regardless of the extent and severity of their handicaps. Amendments to the Education of the Handicapped Act of 1986 extended the requirement for free and appropriate education to children aged 3–5 years.

Pediatricians and parents cannot assume, however, that their community’s school will provide satisfactory education for a child with autistic disorder or a related condition. The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act authorized states to determine how to provide educational services to children younger than 3 years. Pediatricians and parents need to determine the best way to proceed with local agencies.

Legal assistance may be necessary to influence a board of education to fund appropriate education for a child with autistic disorder or a related condition. The Autism Society maintains a Web site and offers a toll-free hotline (1-800-3-AUTISM/1-800-328-8476). This resource provides information and referral services to the public.

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