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Eligibility and School-Aged Children

Students in a school-aged program who have an autism spectrum disorder may receive special education services based on eligibility. However, eligibility in school is not the same thing as a medical diagnosis. While doctors and other qualified medical and behavioral professionals may diagnose a child with an ASD, a Child Study Team in the school determines educational eligibility for this same child. Therefore, a medical diagnosis of ASD does not automatically entitle a student to special education services in the public school system. Rather, a student with ASD is found eligible for special education services based only on an educational determination. In this sense, eligibility simply means that services are only provided when the disability has an impact on the student's learning. Each student found eligible for special education services is then entitled to receive an individualized education based on his or her own needs. Once an educational determination has been made, the federal law known as Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (2004) or IDEA guarantees services under the Individualized Education Program (IEP).

Because educating a student with ASD can be both complex and challenging, school districts generally utilize a multi-disciplinary team approach. This means that several different types of professionals will be involved in the educational process. Team members may include: school administrators, teachers, speech and language pathologists, occupational therapists, behavior specialists, social workers, psychologists, community members, families, and of course, the student with ASD.

Many state and federal guidelines exist regarding the education of students with ASD. There are also standards, competencies, and best practices for educators and professionals in the school setting. Providing a quality and individual education for the student with ASD requires that everyone involved understands the challenges students with ASD face in the school environment. Because such challenges and corresponding strategies can be confusing, and sometimes complicated, we have provided you with resources to help you get started. From instructional strategies to positive behavior supports, we have listed information below to help guide you and the student with ASD.


The ASD Toddler Initiative promotes evidence-based practices for young children, ages birth to three, with autism spectrum disorder.

The Virginia Department of Education hosts a webpage for ASD related resources.

The Virginia Family Special Education Connection is funded by the Virginia Department of Education to provide families with critical and practical information regarding special education services in VA.

Virginia's Training and Technical Assistance Centers are a statewide system designed to improve education and opportunities for individuals with disabilities ages 0-22. The regional T/TAC's provide consultations, newsletters, resources, planning, presentations, workshops and trainings, as well as, referrals to other services.

The Virginia Autism Council (VAC) created a guide to support best practices for educating students with ASD through the Skill Competencies for Professionals and Paraprofessionals in Virginia Supporting Individuals with ASD Across the Lifespan. The Council has also created a highly useful Professional Development Tracker for both professionals and paraprofessionals and a PowerPoint presentation that explains how to use the tools. The information in the Skill Competencies can be useful whether you are an educator, professional, family member, or individual with ASD. The VAC website also hosts a Training Event Calendar for professional development activities in VA.

The Office of Special Education Program's National Training and Technical Assistance Center on Positive Behavior Supports and Intervention's website provides training, research, and evaluation information for families, teachers, and the community. There are also newsletters, resource catalogs, and PowerPoint slides available on Positive Behavior Supports.

Guides and Factsheets

The Virginia Department of Education has published a guidebook especially for parents. This Parent's Guide to Special Education (2010) explains everything from Child Find, referral, evaluation, and eligibility to prior written notice, procedural safeguards, and due process.

VCU-ACE has developed Fact Sheets and Briefs on numerous topics that may be helpful to educators and family members of school-aged children.

The National Autism Center is a nonprofit organization dedicated to promoting best practices among families, educators, and professionals in the field of ASD. They have developed a guide to providing appropriate interventions to students with ASD called "Evidence-Based Practice and Autism in the Schools."

Autism Speaks has a series of tool kits for families and professionals. The School Community Tool Kit contains strategies and tools to improve the school experience for students with ASD and provides learning opportunities for educators and families.

The newest Autism Speaks toolkit covers the topic of challenging behaviors. The Challenging Behaviors Tool Kit discusses intervention principles, strategies, and resources.

The Organization for Autism Research, or OAR, has a set of worksheets designed specifically for educators working with students with ASD.

For information on current principles on restraint and seclusion, the U.S. Department of Education offers a Restraint and Seclusion Resource Document.

The VA Department of Education has developed a guidance document on Models of Best Practice in the Education of Students with Autism Spectrum Disorders. The information presented is designed to guide all schools' practices for educating students with ASD and to promote consistency of programming across educational environments throughout the Commonwealth. This document is intended to serve as a resource primarily for educators, but may also be helpful to parents, medical professionals, and other providers when they are making informed choices about the education of students with ASD. The purpose of the Models of Best Practice document is to provide the tools required to consistently meet the multifaceted needs of students with ASD in the educational setting. The document outlines comprehensive information on the array of available research-based strategies and supports. Content will enable teachers and related services staff to identify and implement practices that have the desired effects both on students' short-term functioning and long-term independence.

Videos and Training

VCU-ACE has developed several online courses, which may be beneficial to family members, professionals, and educators of school-aged children with ASD.

Foundations of Autism Spectrum Disorder provides participants with an understanding of the primary characteristics of ASD. Secondary characteristics, including sensory processing differences and motor deficits are also explored. The course discusses the impact ASD has on the person as well as the family unit. Foundations of ASD also provides an overview of learning styles, and the history, cause, and early signs of ASD. The 4-week course is facilitated by VCU-ACE staff and is free to residents of VA.

Autism Spectrum Disorders for Paraprofessionals: Providing Effective Instruction and Supports is designed to provide paraprofessionals with skills and knowledge needed to support students with an ASD in the school setting. The course will provide an overview of the potential roles and responsibilities the paraprofessional may be asked to deliver. Participants will learn how to carry out their responsibilities while maintaining respect for the students and exhibiting sensitivity to beliefs, values, and cultures. Teaming and communication with professionals and parents will also be highlighted. The course will provide participants with an overview of ASD including primary and secondary characteristics. Information regarding the development and implementation of the Individualized Education Plan (IEP) will be discussed. Participants will gain knowledge of educational modifications, accommodations and educational strategies used to support students with ASD. A focus of the course will be on understanding interfering behaviors, which students with ASD may demonstrate and effectively supporting the student to reduce these behaviors and increase positive skills. The course begins runs on a monthly basis, is facilitated by VCU-ACE Staff, and is free to residents of VA.

Strategies for Supporting Positive Behaviors in Students with Autism Spectrum Disorder was designed to provide teachers, related service providers, paraprofessionals, administrators, families, and other service providers with skills and knowledge needed to support students with an ASD who demonstrate interfering behavior in the school setting. The course provides participants with information regarding the impact of the core deficits of ASD on behavior and positive approaches to understanding behavior. Participants will gain knowledge of the functional approach to behavior, providing behavioral support in the educational environment, understanding the behavior chain, the process of conducting a Functional Behavior Assessment, development and implementation of a behavior intervention plan, strategies for intervening with interfering behavior, and identifying and teaching replacement behavior. The 4-week course is facilitated by VCU-ACE staff and is free to residents of VA.

Understanding Behavior: An Interactive Tutorial by the OSEP Center on Positive Behavioral Intervention and Support is an excellent tool for educators, administrators, school psychologists, counselors, and pre-service teachers.

Research and Articles

Brookman-Frazee, L.I., Drahota, A., & Stadnick, N. (2011). Training community mental health therapists to deliver a package of evidence-based practice strategies for school-age children with autism spectrum disorders: A pilot study. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 42, 1651-61.

Cardon, T.A., Wilcox, M.J., & Campbell, P.H. (2011). Caregiver perspectives about assistive technology use with their young children with autism spectrum disorders. Infants and Young Children, 24(2), 153-173.

Leach, D., & Duffy. M.L. (2009). Supporting students with autism spectrum disorders in inclusive settings. Intervention in School and Clinic, 45, 31-37.

Leaf, J.B., Tsuji, K.H., Griggs, B., Edwards, A., Taubman, M., McEachin, J., Leaf, R., & Oppenheim-Leaf, M.L. (2012). Teaching Social Skills to Children with Autism Using the Cool versus Not Cool Procedure. Education and Training in Autism and Developmental Disabilities, 47(2), 165-175.

MacFarlane, J.R., & Kanaya, T. (2009). What does it mean to be autistic? Inter-state variation in special education criteria for autism services. Journal of Child and Family Studies, 18, 662-669.

Morrier, M.J., & Hess, K.L. (2012). Ethnic differences in autism eligibility in the United States public schools. The Journal of Special Education, 46, 49-63.

Rowley, E., Chandler, S., Baird, G., Simonoff, E., Pickles, A., Loucas, T., Charman, T. (2012). The Experience of Friendship, Victimization and Bullying in Children with an Autism Spectrum Disorder: Associations with Child Characteristics and School Placement. Research in Autism Spectrum Disorders, 6, 1126-1134.


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