An individual with autism may need specialized instruction, assistive technology, therapies, and positive behavioral supports that reflect their unique strengths in order to develop the skills to actively participate in the world. It is ADE/ESS's goal to share the knowledge, practices, and supports that will help define effective services and programs in schools, districts, and homes. The Arizona Department of Education is not responsible for the websites linked to below, and these links do not imply ADE’s endorsement.
Autism is a developmental disability that affects more than 9,000 school children in our state. The characteristics of autism include challenges in communication, socialization, and behavior. Any one of these areas may be affected to a greater or lesser degree, and for that reason, it is called an autism spectrum disorder. To receive special education in schools, a child who is impacted by social, communication, and behavioral challenges as defined in the 34 C.F.R. § 300.8(c)(1) and 15-761 is evaluated by a team of professionals who know the child. This team, which includes the parents, then determines if the child requires specialized instruction to benefit from the school experience. The child may be eligible to receive special education services under the educational disability category of autism if the disability is found to impact his or her performance and access to the general education curriculum. A medical diagnosis is another avenue for identifying the presence of autism, which is defined in the American Psychiatric Association's Diagnostic and Statistical Manual. Individuals who demonstrate communication, social and behavioral difficulties that are seen by a practitioner such as a pediatrician, neurologist, psychiatrist, or clinical psychologist and are found to have the conditions specified in the definition receive a diagnosis of autism. A diagnosis does not automatically establish eligibility for special education. The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) describes the procedural regulations for determining eligibility. To receive special education in the school setting, an educational team that includes the parents will review all of the documentation about the child, which can include the medical diagnosis, to determine the impact of the disability on the child's performance in the educational setting. The team will document how the disability is affecting the child's ability to participate in the educational setting at grade level and whether additional testing is necessary. The review of the documents and all of the data about the child takes place before placement in special education. If you have questions about this process please contact the special education director in your school or the ADE/Exceptional Student Services.
Efforts are underway to decrease the initial age of diagnosis of autism so that children who are identified may begin to receive services. Within Arizona, family support centers such as Raising Special Kids, and other research and resource organizations share early detection strategies that point toward improved outcomes:
First Signs - website to assist early educator teams, parents and other professionals to learn about autism
Phoenix Children’s Hospital is providing training and support for regional autism assessment teams across the state of Arizona. Each team consists of one pediatrician (PCP), an Arizona Early Intervention Program (AzEIP) provider, and a school representative. The development of these regional teams will help to significantly increase access to intervention, therapies, and school services for hundreds of children across the state. If you are interested in participating or would like additional information, please contact Early Access to Care-Arizona.
Many interventions and practices have been developed for teaching individuals with autism. The practices shown to be effective have been identified by such organizations as these:
Autism Focused Intervention Resources and Modules (AFIRM) - modules are designed to help learn a step-by-step process of planning for, using, and monitoring an EBP with learners with ASD from birth to 22 years of age. Available modules:
Arizona State Autism Project (AzSAP) – In collaboration with ADE’s Early Childhood Unit, Professional Learning and Sustainability (PLS) is offering a capacity-building opportunity to school teams for training designed to improve instruction and support for students with autism in Pre-K through High School. The project is currently training districts using Strategies for Teaching based on Autism Research (STAR) program. The program teaches children with autism the critical skills identified by the 2001 National Research Council and uses many of the evidence-based practices identified in the 2009 National Standards Report and 2014 National Professional Development Report. Check out the districts that have participated in this project. For more information, contact Lisa Kunz and check out districts that participated in this project.
ADE's Assistive Technology (AT) team provides training on such topics as Autism, Video Modeling, Visual Supports, and iPads in the Classroom. For more information visit the AT webpage.
Youth and children with autism may have limited communication skills and may not be aware of the dangers that are around them. The National Autism Association’s video portrays this issue for parents, educators, and first responders.
The National Autism Association’s Caregiver Toolkit provides information and awareness materials. A checklist for planning and responding to wandering behaviors is included with suggestions for safety tools, first responder profile forms, social stories, and caregiver logs.
The opening of the ESS Special Education Program Approval System for the 2021–2022 school year will open on May 17, 2021. ESS plans to have all ED-P programs that wish to operate for fiscal year 2021 to 2022 reviewed and approved by the end of June. Failure to apply to the application may cause integrity failures for public education agencies (PEAs) toward the end of the upcoming school year, which may affect state payments.