Autism Special Education Laws & Rights (USA)

In the United States, there are laws concerning children and the public education system. Autistic children may require additional consideration when it comes to school work and testing. Some of the children only need a few special modifications, like extra time for testing, while others might need more. Autism is classified as a disability. The following are autism special education laws parents need to consider when your autistic child attends a public school.

autism rights school IEP IDEA

Individuals With Disabilities Education Act

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) governs how states and public agencies provide early intervention, special education, and related services to youth with disabilities. The law ensures children with disabilities who meet the requirements receive free and appropriate public education and assistance.

Autistic Special Education Laws & Rights Specified

Autism is specified as a qualifying disability in the first paragraph of Section 300.8 in the IDEA Part B Regulations:

“Child with a disability means a child evaluated in accordance with §§300.304 through 300.311 as having an intellectual disability, a hearing impairment (including deafness), a speech or language impairment, a visual impairment (including blindness), a serious emotional disturbance (referred to in this part as ’emotional disturbance’), an orthopedic impairment, autism, traumatic brain injury, an other health impairment, a specific learning disability, deaf-blindness, or multiple disabilities, and who, by reason thereof, needs special education and related services.”

For more information about disability categories as outlined in IDEA Part B Regulations visit:

Free and Appropriate Education (FAPE)

The cornerstone of IDEA, free and appropriate education, emphasizes special education programs designed to meet a child’s unique circumstances.

In 2017, the U.S. Supreme Court unanimously determined that “[t]o meet its substantive obligation under the IDEA, a school must offer an IEP [individualized education program] that is reasonably calculated to enable a child to make progress appropriate in light of the child’s circumstances.” (Read the decision in Endrew F. v. Douglas County School District Re-1)

The Court further emphasized that “every child should have the chance to meet challenging objectives.” The individualizes program must attempt to prepare a child for further education, employment, and independent living. 

What does “reasonably calculated” mean?

Footnote 5 in the Court’s decision covers “reasonably calculated” as the standard that recognizes that the IEP Team’s prospective judgment is required. Generally, this applies to the school’s personnel. The school’s expertise, the child’s potential for growth, and the child’s parents’ views should inform the education plan. Any previous strategies, supports, and services should be analyzed for effectiveness.

As stated by the Court, “any review of an IEP must consider whether the IEP is reasonably calculated to ensure such progress, not whether it would be considered ideal.” (Footnote 5: 137 S.Ct. at 999.)

Least Restrictive Environment

IDEA prefers all students, even those with disabilities, to be educated in regular classes under section 612(a)(5). This section includes public, private, and other educational institutions to teach disabled students with the general population. The goal is to promote social skills while tending to students’ unique needs with aids and support staff.

In most cases, the school needs to attempt to keep autistic children in regular classrooms. The school must evaluate each child when a request is made by educators or parents. If you believe your child is at a disadvantage because of their autism or learning disability, write a letter to the school requesting an evaluation. You will be asked to a permission letter before the review can occur.

If a regular class arrangement cannot satisfactorily be achieved, then special classes, separate schooling, or removal from the educational environment may be considered. These options are typically only available when the nature of the disability is classified as severe.

After completing the evaluation, you will have a meeting with the school to discuss their finding and the individualized education plan (IEP). You still have a voice in the overall strategy. If you feel that the school’s program does not promote your child’s overall well-being, then speak up. It is your right under autism special education laws. Reserve being overbearing until you need it. The best strategy is to work together towards a compromise. You should respect their opinion but also let them know that your voice matters too.

Individualized Education Plan (IEP)

During the evaluation meeting at the school, parents are presented with an individualized education plan (IEP). The IEP should take into account the child’s functional performance and present academic achievement levels, and the impact and progress of their disability in the general education curriculum.

The IEP needs to align with the student’s grade-level, and meet the requirements outlined in IDEA’s 34 CFR 300.320 (Definition of individualized education program) through 300.324 (Development, review, and revision of IEP). 

An IEP states the child’s needs to get an appropriate education. It will also list the services available and going to receive. If the services are not working for the child, the IEP can be reevaluated at any time. This is a part of autism special education law that parents should notice.

Examples of IEP Services:

  1. Extra time to complete classwork
  2. Tests read aloud
  3. In-classroom aid

Every child has unique circumstances that may change. IEPs are reevaluated every year unless a parent asks for one sooner. Parents have the right to attend all IEP meetings regarding their child. 

Be your child’s advocate within the school system. When faced with the runaround, do whatever you can to be heard and receive the specialized services afforded to them by law. If you cannot find a way to be heard, seek local organizations or attorneys willing to help.