Is Autism Considered Special Needs?

Explore the question "is autism considered special needs?" and uncover vital support resources and accommodations.

Alan Hollander
May 21, 2024

Is Autism Considered Special Needs?

Explore the question "is autism considered special needs?" and uncover vital support resources and accommodations.

Understanding Autism Spectrum Disorder

Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a complex neurodevelopmental condition that affects social interaction, communication, and behavior. In understanding whether autism is considered special needs, it's important to first grasp the core characteristics of ASD and how it is diagnosed.

Core Characteristics of ASD

ASD is characterized by two main core symptoms: impairments in social communication and interaction, and restricted and repetitive behaviors.

Social communication impairments involve challenges like lack of appropriate eye contact, inability to initiate or respond to joint attention, and other social difficulties. Some individuals with ASD may also have specific difficulties in receptive and expressive language. Receptive language involves comprehension, while expressive language involves expressing desires and thoughts. Some individuals with ASD may be nonverbal and require communication devices, while others may express verbally.

The second core symptom, restricted and repetitive behaviors, refers to a limited repertoire of behaviors or a preference for certain tasks. People with ASD exhibit restricted, repetitive, and stereotyped patterns of behavior, interests, and activities [2].

Prevalence and Diagnosis of ASD

ASD is a condition that begins in early childhood and can lead to problems functioning in society, socially, in school, and at work. Symptoms of autism are usually observed in children within the first year. A small number may develop typically in the first year and then regress between 18 and 24 months of age, displaying autism symptoms.

The prevalence of ASD in the United States is estimated to be 1.68% of children aged 8 years (or 1 in 59 children). However, parent-reported diagnoses averaged slightly higher at 2.5% in 2016. ASD occurs more often in males, with a male-to-female ratio closer to 3:1 [4].

There are also disparities in diagnoses, with Caucasian children being more commonly diagnosed with ASD compared to black or Hispanic children. However, this gap seems to be closing [4].

Genetic factors play a significant role in ASD susceptibility, with siblings of patients with ASD carrying an increased risk of diagnosis. Over 700 genes associated with ASD have been identified. Environmental factors such as prenatal exposure to certain drugs, advanced parental age, and prematurity may also modulate genetic risk.

Understanding the core characteristics, prevalence, and diagnosis of ASD is crucial in addressing the question of whether autism is considered special needs. This knowledge forms a foundation for discussing the resources and support available for individuals with ASD, and how these can be optimized to improve their quality of life.

Support Resources for Adults with Autism

When discussing whether autism is considered special needs, it's important to highlight the support resources available for adults with autism. These resources aim to assist in various aspects of life, from employment to housing to therapy. Two noteworthy providers of these services are Autism Speaks and the Autism Response Team.

Autism Speaks Services for Autistic Adults

Autism Speaks is a renowned organization that works tirelessly to identify solutions catering to the diverse needs of adults with autism through various support resources and services. They offer numerous networks designed to facilitate connections and assistance specifically for individuals with autism. These include the Autism Employment Network, the Housing & Residential Supports Network, and the Transition to Adulthood Network.

Moreover, Autism Speaks provides valuable resources for housing, employment, therapy options, rights, adult services, and more. These services are designed to assist autistic adults in navigating various aspects of their lives, thereby addressing the question, "is autism considered special needs?" with action and support [5].

Autism Response Team Assistance

The Autism Response Team (ART) is another dedicated entity providing specialized assistance to individuals with autism, their families, and caregivers. They achieve this by connecting them with valuable information, tools, and resources [5].

In addition to these, many agencies and programs are designed to support families affected by autism who are facing difficult times and need financial support. Some of these are accessible to all families who meet financial criteria, while others are specifically aimed at supporting individuals with disabilities.

These resources serve as a testament to the fact that while living with autism may present unique challenges, there are numerous resources and support systems available to help adults with autism live fulfilling, independent lives.

Educational Accommodations for Autistic Students

In addressing the question, "is autism considered special needs?", it becomes essential to delve into the unique support systems and accommodations that benefit autistic students in the educational setting.

Challenges in the Classroom

Autistic students can face distinctive challenges in a classroom setting. These challenges can span from processing information, navigating sensory experiences, to managing peer interactions. For instance, students who struggle with communication may find it difficult to connect with classmates, potentially impacting their social development and academic progress.

Sensory Tools and Safe Spaces

Approximately 90% of autistic individuals exhibit atypical sensory processing, such as hyper-reactivity or hyporeactivity. To aid these students, sensory tools can be implemented in the classroom. This might include headphones for noise sensitivity or quiet fidget toys for those needing tactile engagement.

Moreover, providing a safe space like a calming corner can be beneficial. These spaces, equipped with dim lights, neutral colors, and soft furniture, offer a retreat for students when they feel overwhelmed by sensory experiences or anxiety. This allows students a place to self-regulate and manage sensory overload within the school setting.

Visual Supports and Executive Functioning

Executive function, which includes skills like planning, organization, and task initiation, can pose challenges for autistic students. To aid in these areas, visual supports can be immensely beneficial. Tools such as printed calendars, visible clocks, timers, and posters with visual reminders can assist with daily tasks such as homework and schedules. These supports also promote independence and enhance time management skills, crucial for overall academic success [7].

Federal law mandates schools to provide accommodations for students with autism and other disabilities. These provisions can be facilitated through a 504 plan or an Individualized Education Program (IEP) if the disability causes educational impairments. Thus, support measures such as sensory tools, safe spaces, and visual aids not only serve to accommodate autistic students but also align with legal guidelines in providing equal educational opportunities.

Financial Support and Planning for Autism

Managing autism can be financially challenging for many families. Numerous resources, however, are available to provide financial support and planning for individuals with autism. This section will discuss specialized financial planning tools, Medicaid waivers, ABLE accounts, and community assistance programs.

Specialized Financial Planning Tools

There are financial planning tools designed specifically to help families and caregivers of individuals with autism. One of them is the Autism Speaks Special Needs Financial Planning Tool Kit. This kit provides information from experts in special needs financial planning and includes personal stories from other parents or caregivers who have navigated through the financial aspects of autism care.

Medicaid Waivers and ABLE Accounts

Medicaid Waivers, known as 1915(c) Home and Community Based Services, are available in most states. These waivers provide support services for individuals with developmental disabilities, including autism. The goal is to help these individuals stay at home or in the community rather than in an institution.

In addition to Medicaid Waivers, the Achieving a Better Life Experience (ABLE) Act of 2014 introduced ABLE accounts. These accounts offer a savings option for families of individuals with disabilities. They can save for long-term expenses without impacting eligibility for public benefits such as Medicaid and Supplemental Security Income (SSI).

Community Assistance Programs

Community Action Agencies are non-profit organizations funded by state and federal sources. They offer various assistance programs including rental assistance, energy assistance, food programs, and emergency assistance for low-income residents. Many of these agencies and programs are specifically designed to support families affected by autism who are facing difficult times and need financial support. Some of these programs are accessible to all families who meet financial criteria, while others are aimed at supporting individuals with disabilities.

In conclusion, while autism is indeed considered a special need, there are various financial resources and supports available to individuals and families affected by autism. These resources can provide much-needed relief and assistance, helping to ensure that individuals with autism receive the care and support they need.

Characteristics of Autism Spectrum Disorder

Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a neurodevelopmental disorder characterized by varying degrees of social communication and interaction skills, as well as restricted and repetitive behaviors. The severity levels range from level 1 (“requiring support") to level 3 (“requiring very substantial support”) Autism Speaks. The disorder encompasses conditions like autism, Asperger's syndrome, childhood disintegrative disorder, and an unspecified form of pervasive developmental disorder Mayo Clinic.

Social Communication Impairments

All individuals with ASD exhibit social communication impairments, with common difficulties including lack of appropriate eye contact, inability to initiate or respond to joint attention, and other social challenges Indiana Resource Center for Autism. These impairments can greatly influence an individual's ability to form and maintain social relationships. It's important to remember that every individual with autism is unique, and the degree of social communication impairment can vary widely from person to person.

Language Difficulties and Sensory Sensitivities

Persons with ASD may have specific difficulties in receptive and expressive language. Receptive language involves comprehension, while expressive language involves expressing desires and thoughts. Some individuals with ASD may be nonverbal and require communication devices, while others may express verbally Indiana Resource Center for Autism.

In addition to language difficulties, individuals with ASD may also show sensory differences. They may be hypersensitive or hyposensitive to various sensory inputs, which are categorized under restricted repetitive behaviors in the DSM-5™ Indiana Resource Center for Autism. This could include sensitivity to sounds, lights, textures, tastes, and smells.

Restricted and Repetitive Behaviors

People with ASD exhibit restricted, repetitive, and stereotyped patterns of behavior, interests, and activities. Their interests may differ in intensity and focus, stemming from a limited repertoire of behaviors or a preference for certain tasks Indiana Resource Center for Autism. These behaviors can range from simple motor mannerisms, such as hand-flapping or finger-tapping, to more complex behaviors like lining up toys or following specific routines.

Understanding these characteristics is crucial to providing appropriate support and accommodations for individuals with ASD, whether in an educational setting, the workplace, or the community. As we continue to explore the question "Is autism considered special needs?", it's essential to remember that every individual with ASD is unique and may require different levels of support to navigate their daily lives.

Accommodations and Modifications for Autistic Students

In the context of education, it's crucial to understand the role of accommodations and modifications for students with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). These strategies, tailored to the student's individual needs, can significantly enhance their learning experience.

Tailored Educational Support

Students with autism who have an Individualized Education Program (IEP) or a 504 plan are eligible to receive accommodations, tailored to their individual needs and determined by the IEP team. It is essential to involve the student in the discussion to identify which accommodations would be beneficial.

Accommodations for autistic students can cover various areas such as sensory processing, behavioral supports, comprehension, reading and written expression, executive functioning (attention, organization, work/study skills), social interaction, emotional regulation, and self-regulation. These measures help minimize the effects of their disability and provide an equal footing with non-disabled peers [8].

Difference Between Accommodations and Modifications

While both accommodations and modifications are strategies used to support students with autism, they serve different functions. Modifications alter what a student is taught or expected to demonstrate, while accommodations are meant to level the playing field and allow students receiving special education to achieve the same level of mastery as those without support. Students with an IEP are eligible for both accommodations and modifications, while a 504 plan offers only accommodations.

Related Services and Individualized Plans

In addition to accommodations, students with an IEP may receive "related services" like counseling, occupational therapy, physical therapy, and speech/language therapy. These additional services are meant to support the student's education alongside the accommodations provided. However, a 504 plan does not offer these related services.

Accommodations and modifications for students with autism who receive special education through an IEP in Maryland are documented in Section III of the IEP, which covers Special Considerations and Accommodations. On the other hand, students eligible for accommodations under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act should have a 504 Accommodation Plan that outlines the necessary accommodations for a "free and appropriate public education".

Navigating the world of educational support for students with autism can be complex, but understanding the differences between accommodations, modifications, and related services can empower parents, educators, and the students themselves to advocate for the most effective strategies. Armed with this knowledge, they can work together to tailor a plan that best supports the student's learning and growth.

References

[1]: https://www.autismspeaks.org/autism-symptoms

[2]: https://www.iidc.indiana.edu/pages/characteristics

[3]: https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/autism-spectrum-disorder/symptoms-causes/syc-20352928

[4]: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7082249/

[5]: https://www.autismspeaks.org/resources-autistic-adults

[6]: https://www.autismspeaks.org/financial-autism-support

[7]: https://psychcentral.com/autism/accommodations-for-children-with-autism

[8]: https://xminds.org/accommodations