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Educating Children with Autism:
What does the National Academy of Science's report actually say works?

Over the past several years, Dr. Montgomery has presented day-long workshops to educators in the Southeast on what the NAS report says and most importantly what its functional implications are for their continued service of ASD students.

Educating Children with Autism was written at the request of the U.S. Department of Education and published in 2001.  The Department of Education asked the NRC to consider "the state of the scientific evidence of the effects of early educational intervention on young children with autistic spectrum disorders" (p. vii).  The questions covered in the report range from epidemiology, family support, diagnosis and screening, assistive technology, characteristics of autism, and features of intervention programs, to how instructional strategies have been put together in comprehensive programs.  Additionally, the report addresses public policy, personnel preparation, and future research. The NAS Report is sub-divided into three major sections:  

  1. Goals for Children with Autism and their Families 

  2. Characteristics of Effective Interventions 

  3. Policy, Legal, and Research Context 

Major recommendations related to the Local Educational Authority’s role include the specific areas of Assessment, Educational Services, Role of Families, and Public Policy.  From my perspective as a clinical psychologist and behavior analyst who is frequently frustrated with "reports" and "evaluations" on children that appear to obviously meet all the criteria for a diagnosis of Autism or one of the ASDs but who have any of a number of other diagnoses but NOT ASD the report's statement that "Professionals experienced with ASDs can reliably diagnose children by age 2" was immensely significant.  What this means functionally for parents is that when professionals say that they can't make the ASD diagnosis the parent needs to figure out if it is a lack of adequate information on the child or a lack of adequate experience and training on the part of the "professional" making the statement and precludes the diagnosis being made for the child.  Additionally, the report states that there continue to be those who want to only label as eligible for Autism those children with sub-normal intelligence and that "regardless of severity, children with any Autistic Spectrum Disorder belong within the ASD Category" (emphasis added).  What does this mean functionally for parents?  The ASD child who falls into the Asperger's diagnostic category  should qualify for an Autism educational eligibility regardless of their "IQ".  These are fairly powerful and important statements on the part of the NRC committee which are very frequently at odds with what passes for practice today.   

On the issue of what should be included in the IEP goals for autistic students the Committee clearly stated that certain categories of goals are not optional.  Remember that all the recommendations of the Committee are based on a process involving a review of the research by professionals from a variety of professions including: educators, psychologists, physicians, speech pathologists, and a variety of others not members of the committee itself.  The report states that goals should include measurable objectives in the following areas: 

  1. Social Skills 

  2. Communication

  3. Increased engagement and flexibility

On the issue of the role of the family within the educational process the report indicates that nearly all empirically supported treatments for ASDs included a parent component, with most using a Parent-Training approach.  LEA’s should, when an ASD is suspected, provide to the family at the beginning of the evaluation process the following: 

  1. Written information on the nature of ASD and educational eligibility categories 

  2. The range of alternatives with best practices in the early education of students with ASDs 

  3. Sources of funding and support, and 

  4. Their child's rights

The committee also reviewed a vast array of research on autism, education issues, and its treatment.  They offered a summary of the characteristics of effective interventions.  Essentially what the committee did was review what worked and what didn't in improving the lives of ASD students and then looked at what the effective interventions have in common.  The essential characteristics of those programs that have empirical research support of their efficacy include:

  1. Entry into ASD programs occurs as soon as an ASD diagnosis is considered

  2. Inclusion of a family component, including Parent-Training

  3. Low student/teacher ratio of no more than 2:1

  4. Ongoing formal program evaluation, and

  5. Frequent evaluation of individual progress

Additionally, such programs provide active engagement in intensive educational programming.  Such programming occurs for a minimum of the equivalent of a full school day, 5 days a week.  This includes full year programming varied according to the child’s chronological age and developmental level.  The committee also acknowledged that inclusion is important "Where it leads to meeting educational goals, children should receive specialized instruction in settings in which ongoing interactions with typically developing children occur."

This is just a brief overview of some of the initial materials included in the NAS report.  Additional content and material are reviewed in the multimedia presentation on this topic prepared by Dr. Montgomery.

tips.gif (506 bytes)  Today's Resource Tips:  

Dr. Robert Montgomery has presented on this topic  to a variety of organizations and conferences and is available to present to your organization.  An Adobe pdf version of this article is available for download -

An Adobe pdf version of Educating Children with Autism is available for online review.

Dr. Robert Montgomery is available to consult to you as a reviewer of professional credentials and qualifications in the field of behavior analysis, ABA, Functional Behavioral Assessment/Analysis, and clinical psychology.


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