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Child Diagnosed with Autism, School Won’t Help

by Pam Wright

I had a question from JH today asking about an “educational diagnosis” of autism. Here’s what she asked.

“What do you do when your child has been diagnosed with autism from every medical doctor he has ever seen, including a developmental pediatrician and a neurologist, and the school says he isn’t ‘diagnosed educationally’? In other words, he doesn’t meet the education definition of autism.”

Autism is a neurological disorder that includes impairments in communication, socialization and behavior. The diagnostic criteria for Autism, Asperger’s Syndrome and other disorders on the autism spectrum are listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM IV).

Autism can affect every aspect of a child’s life – communicating with others, establishing and maintaining relationships, learning, and in the ability to express emotion.

If the school is balking at providing services, ask the see the “educational definition” of autism. How does it differ from the diagnostic criteria set out in the DSM IV?

JH didn’t say what state she lives in, how old her child is, or how long she had been trying to get help from the school.

If you have a child who has been diagnosed with autism, you have no time to waste. According to the National Academy of Sciences, “the diagnosis of autism can be made reliably in two-year-olds by professionals experienced in the diagnostic assessment of young children” with autistic disorders. Early diagnosis is crucial because education is the primary form of treatment, and the earlier it starts, the better.”

Further, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) does not require the school to “label” a child before finding him eligible for special education and related services. To be eligible, the child has to have a disability and “by reason thereof needs special education and related services.” If a child has been diagnosed with autism, that child needs special education and related services. We built a topics page of FAQs, resources, cases, organizations, and other information about Autism, Asperger’s Syndrome (AS), Pervasive Developmental Disorders (PDD), and other Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD). These resources will help.

Write a polite, business-like letter to the school that describes the problem and your proposed solution. Ask what the school plans to do for your child. If you do not get a satisfactory response, you need to consult with an attorney who has expertise in special education issues. For attorneys in any state, check the Yellow Pages for Kids site at


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18 Comments on "Child Diagnosed with Autism, School Won’t Help"

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08/21/2015 3:05 pm

Oh my gosh…I’m not alone!!! My daughter is pretty much labeled at her school with behavioral problems. When I bring up the word high functioning autistic or aspergers they look at me as if I am crazy or don’t know what I’m doing.
I’ve always thought that the state assigned therapist; play therapist, was enough to get us to a the appropriate professionals needed to diagnose my daughter properly to support her needs. It seems though that the school’s seem to think they know my child more than I do. Something just doesn’t jive with… Read more »

11/27/2014 7:42 pm

My grandson has autism. The school will only let him go to school for hour an half a day. Live in AR.

02/25/2014 10:38 am

My granddaughter is been diagnosed with autism and the school where she is attending does not use the eligibility of asd in her IEP, but instead they use language impair and other health concerns. Please can you point what I can to to help grandchild to get the services she needs.

11/11/2013 12:20 am

I am going to same problem, my son has been diagnostic Autistic High Function. The school test him after a year asking for and they say on his MET Report that he do not has autism, but every day the teacher write that he has behavior problem, he been diagnostic OC, ODD, ADHD, auditoring processing, virtual perceptual, and that is when his pediatric Dr. referral me to a Neurology Dr., I have a appointment with a lawyer and I hope he can help me. If so want can help me I really appreciated, I like to know how… Read more »

11/15/2012 5:45 pm

I feel the pain! My son was also denied saying medical autism is not the same as educational autism, and on that basis the team dismissed a top multi-disciplinary team’s reports (they said my son should be a “shoe-in”).

I requested an independent educational evaluation (IEE) and went to professionals at different locations rather than the same office. I also had to file a state complaint, and won. It is an ongoing battle because eligibility is only the beginning. Then comes fighting for an adequate IEP, then comes getting them to follow it ….

Subsequent… Read more »

09/14/2015 12:05 am

we need to talk. AHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH. I’d love to hear what happened next.

05/01/2012 2:09 am

Hi my name is Lisa and I am a widow with 3 children that are in the autistic spectrum. I have a 20 year old, and twins that are 14 years of age. I can’t even begin to tell you what I have been through with the schools and trying to juggle everything on my own with no help. All I know is teachers and schools now days are joke and kid’s now days in school are just horrible to children with disabilities. I could write a book on all the heartache and struggles so many people have put my… Read more »

10/14/2010 12:09 am

I have three children on the autism spectrum. We have been told repeatedly by our district about a medical diagnosis, versus an educational diagnosis. We have had to fight with our district for everything.

One child has an IEP that is, at best, inadequate (no transition planning). The second child has half an IEP because we are still trying to get needed services after 1 year. The third child has autism, needs special ed, but has no IEP. Last week, we left another IEP meeting after more stalling tactics and games designed to keep our daughter from getting… Read more »

10/13/2010 8:13 pm

Is the school required to use the dsm-iv or IDEA2004,We live in NJ . We are JH he is 11 .He has pdd-nos . We have a recent court date to go and fight for a functional behavior analysis. The school is taking us because they dont feel they should do one. Not educationaly necessary! He is on almost 3rd grade level he is in 6th grade. We feel its his environment and the lack of knowledge on autism from the staff. They use teacher observation to eval his progressREALLY wake up its 2010. There is no scietifically based instruction… Read more »

03/25/2010 7:03 pm

I am going through the same thing here in Pasco county. The day I gave them two reports (neuro. saying PDD) and lisc. psyc. who accually has written books on autism and is in his 70’s and worked his entire life with autism did a CARS on my son autism dx 299.00. That week they wrote “dismissed” on his matrix which was the highest it can be 255 and told me he no longer qualified for speech nor school (preschool). So I fought…then I finally got him a good IEP (after 8 months of advocating) w/speech and lang. elig. I… Read more »

09/17/2009 12:39 pm

My sister is having the same problem. The school is not helping, we filled out their paper work a year ago. Since then we have filled out their paper work and repeatedly asked for my nephew to be put in the proper classes. Contacted a lawyer but can not afford the fees. Is there another way to get help? My nephew is a level three and needs help, he loves to learn but all day in a normal class is not going to be productive.

03/12/2009 1:41 pm

I’m in MA, my son is 6.75 years old and I know exactly what JH is going through. My PDD-NOS dx.’d son was stripped of all services and mainstreamed into a general Kindergarten Class in Sept of 07- by Oct 07 his general education K teacher was screaming for help with him.I have 4 different M.D.s saying he’s PDD-NOS and even the school pyschologist says in an evaluation she did that the Dev. Delay category an eval the district did in 2005 is wrong. I hired an Advocate, have reports from his Pedi, a Dev. Pedi, and 2… Read more »

12/02/2008 1:56 pm

I have read your response to JH, and agree with most of the information provided. The one point I would like to add is that Autism exists on a spectrum, from very mild to severe. The educational definition of Autism includes a portion that states that the condition must have an adverse affect upon the student’s “educational performance.” That being said, it is possible that a very small perentage of children who fall on the mild end of the spectrum may not require special education services in order to obtain a satisfactory educational performance.

Each student must… Read more »

09/20/2008 4:39 pm

People wishing to learn how to transition their autistic children back to school or into a new school might benefit from listening to the following free audio podcast put out by Midnight In Chicago:

“Transitioning Autistics Back To School”

This and many other Autism Spectrum Podcasts are available at

05/08/2008 6:29 pm

My son’s school distict is paying for web based courses via Florida Virtual School. He has an IEP goal of working up to an hour with less than six prompts. The Distict only provides a “tutor” for two hours per week out of 26+ hours of instruction.
My wife (certified teacher) provides the remainder with no financial pay.
The district has indicated that the teachers who monitor the courses for Florida Virtual School are serving as the highly qualified staff under NCLB.
Are schools allowed to have a BIP that is only monitor for 2% of a child’s instruction?
Is the school required… Read more »

05/08/2008 9:03 am

If I have learned *ANYTHING* in the 5 years I have been Advocating for my step-son and others on the Autism Spectrum, it is that “The Squeaky Wheel Gets The Grease!” And while Wrightslaw has been most instrumental in the success we have had — I have read many an article about “Playing Nice” with School Boards — Unfortunately, I have never met a School Board that “Plays Nice” in return!

Of course I am cordial, accomodating, etc., going in, but trying to “play nice” cost our son 2 years due to the School Board’s broken promises, back-tracking and… Read more »

05/08/2008 6:24 am

My son had a medical diagnosis of aspergers. I arrived in Tennessee with a current IEP, and they decided to reevaluate him and he lost his IEP due to doing well academically. Long story short, his grades declined, he became a victim of bullying (which the school has repeatedly ignored), they actually make out that my son is a behavioral problem. I ended up pulling him from school and he is now homebound. They now decided because his grades are declining to reinstate his IEP, but still have it as him being a behavioral problem. What can I do?

05/06/2008 2:00 pm

my son, fit this situation to a T. He was diagnosed by a board certified developmental/behavioral pediatrician with Aspergers. My two nephews had already been diagnosed as well. The school district told me that the MD’s don’t do all of the “proper” testing that they do, so they didn’t have to honor the diagnosis and that their tests showed my son did not have it. Well, the next meeting I walked in with an Advocate that I found on, and they discovered his autism by watching him on the playground. Follow your mommy instinct, I wonder… Read more »