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


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


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.


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 I can fight the school district is so sad because children with high function are lost in the school system.


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 to the complaint, this past year we spent $10,000+ (in home equity) on a special ed attorney trying get that *free* public education with no real gain. Situations will vary … but we now wish we’d spent that money for direct services!!! Don’t give up, though!


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 children and I through. I am just disgusted with the system period and how messed up people are anymore.