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"... the most important considerations in devising educational programs for children with autistic spectrum disorders have to do with recognition of the autism spectrum as a whole, with the concomitant implications for social, communicative, and behavioral development and learning, and with the understanding of the strengths and weaknesses of the individual child across areas of development."
—Educating Children with Autism2001

Understanding Autism
Diagnostic and Educational Disability Criteria

Why is it so important to recognize and understand the underlying characteristics of autism and Asperger’s Syndrome? If a teacher can accurately assess the learning style and particular needs of a student and differentiate instruction to meet those needs, is a clinical or educational diagnosis so important? 

It would be wonderful if all teachers could accurately assess a student’s needs without understanding a diagnosis; but some of the characteristics of autism and Asperger’s Syndrome resemble the characteristics of other diagnoses such as ADHD, OCD, or generalized anxiety disorder. Sometimes the student may have a dual diagnosis, autism and ADHD, for example. 

If the characteristics are considered in isolation, an incomplete understanding of the child is formed, and often it is assumed that the student is choosing his behavior, when in fact, his neurology is determining his behavior. And often the strength of a student’s skills in one area can mask her weaknesses in another area. When the diagnosis and characteristics are deeply understood, a teacher can better predict when or where a student with autism might struggle and can establish strategies to assist her before she fails. 

We define two types of criteria: the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders and the categories of educational disability under IDEA Law. Sometimes students with autism are recognized by an educational disability other than autism, even if they have a clinical diagnosis of autism. These educational disabilities include Speech/Language, Emotional Disturbance, and Other Health Impaired.

DSM-5 Diagnostic Criteria

Educational Disability Criteria

For a refreshing, alternative perspective, the following article about diagnostic criteria defines Asperger's Syndrome by its strengths, and thereby encourages readers to rethink their responses to people with autism and recognize their contributions. The Discovery of 'Aspie' Criteria, by Tony Attwood and Carol Gray.

Improving the educational experiences and outcomes of students on the autism spectrum in grades K-12

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