Who Can Diagnosis Autism Spectrum Disorder?

During my presentation on Special Education Law and Asperger’s Syndrome at yesterday’s AANE conference, a very interesting question arose.  An attendee asked who can diagnosis a disability.  That question seems simple enough, but the answer is not so simple.

The reason he asked the question was that his IEP Team told him that the school system is not able to diagnose a disability – they claimed that it is up to the parents to get that diagnosis privately.  I see this often at Team meetings.  In general, it is not true.  The evaluation that the school system performs will likely include a psychological evaluation, an educational evaluation, input from parents and teachers, and possibly a medical evaluation by a physician (at school expense!).

The school system is perfectly capable of diagnosing a learning disability.  On the other hand, it is in no position to diagnosis a physical ailment that only a physician can diagnose.  Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is in between.  According to IDEA, “Autism means 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.”  34 C.F.R. 308(c)(1)(i). A developmental disability is generally defined as a mental or physical impairment identified prior to age 18.  A qualified psychologist – and one would assume that a school psychologist is qualified – should be able to diagnose autism.

What’s even more interesting, and beneficial to parents when the school is refusing to diagnose autism, is 34 C.F.R. 308(c)(1)(iii): “A child who manifests the characteristics of autism after age three could be identified as having autism if the criteria in paragraph (c)(1)(i) of this section are satisfied.” So, even if the child has not been formally diagnosed with autism – regardless of who should have done the diagnosis – if the child “manifests the characteristics of autism,” the Team could then identify the child as having autism, and treat him or her as such.

I would be very interested to get feedback from readers of this blog regarding your own experiences.  Please take 30 seconds to respond to this poll:

Please visit my web site for more information about the Law Office of James M. Baron: http://www.lawbaron.com.

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