An IEP team may determine that a student meets the federal and state eligibility criteria under the category of autism if a child has a developmental disability significantly affecting verbal and nonverbal communication and social interaction, generally evident before age three, that adversely affects a child’s educational performance. Other characteristics often associated with autism are engagement in repetitive activities and stereotyped movements, resistance to environmental change or change in daily routines, and unusual responses to sensory experiences. A child who manifests the characteristics of autism after age three could be identified as having autism if these criteria are satisfied. Autism does not apply if a child’s educational performance is adversely affected primarily because the child has an emotional disturbance. [34 C.F.R. Sec. 300.8(c)(1); 5 C.C.R. Sec. 3030(b)(1).]
In order to qualify for special education under this category, your child does not need to meet the medical definition of autism, just the educational definition. Likewise, meeting the medical definition of autism and obtaining a medical diagnosis does not ensure that your child will be eligible for special education services if she does not meet the federal or state eligibility criteria for autism.