Deciding if autism is the most appropriate eligibility category

Ask yourself:  Given all that you’ve learned about this student, which of the following skill areas seem to impact the student most significantly?

Social Awareness – Student is often “in his own world”; may attend to objects more than people; may not “pick up” or seem to be affected by other people’s nonverbal cues (e.g., facial expressions, voice tone, posture, gestures)

Social Understanding – Student has trouble accurately interpreting the nonverbal behaviors of others (such as understanding other people’s facial expressions, changes in voice tone, postures, gestures).  Student may need to be explicitly instructed about social conventions other students seem to naturally understand.  For example a child with autism may not seem to understand that group instructions are also meant for her.  The behaviors of others seem to confuse the student.  Student may want friends, but seem not to know quite how to make a friendship happen. Student may make inaccurate judgments about other people’s motivations.

Adaptive skills – Student is not as independent in daily activities as you’d expect, given overall intelligence.

Self-regulation – Emotion is disorganizing to this student – positive and negative. Coping challenges impact participation and persistence in school activities.  Even though he knows the right thing to do, he often has trouble actually doing the right thing in the moment.

Flexibility -  Student has difficulties shifting attention, transitioning across activities, changing topics of conversation, entering or leaving social interactions, accepting changes in rules or expectations, and/or doing more than one thing at a time.  May worry persistently, have difficulty accepting mistakes and overly focus on negative aspects of an experience.

Planning & Initiation – Student is slow to get started on assignments– especially for complex or multi-step assignments.  Even well-practiced routines (such as putting completed homework in the appropriate spot) require reminders and adult facilitation.

Verbal Communication – Student is overly literal and/or pedantic when communicating with others.  His or her language may seem more formal and adult-like than other kids’.  Verbal exchanges don’t often feel very “conversational” or “chatty”– more like information-sharing.  Student tends to talk about only a few topics.  Student may provide either too much or too little information in verbal exchanges and it may be difficult to follow his or her train of thought. 

Nonverbal Communication – Student tends not to use his eyes, facial expressions, voice tone, postures and gestures to share emotions and interest with others.  Student may not readily read social signals from others.  

If more than one of these skill areas is a significant problem for the student, consider further assessment for ASD.