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Education Evaluation Guide for Autism, Spring 2009

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The purpose of this guide is to provide information needed and processes to follow to determine whether a student meets the eligibility criteria for the educational impairment area of autism under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.
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Educational Evaluation Guide
For Autism








Spring 2009




Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction
Elizabeth Burmaster, State Superintendent






THESE MATERIALS DEVELOPED BY:

Pam Foegen, Former Autism Consultant
Marge Resan, Former Autism Consultant
Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

Special thanks and appreciation to the following individuals whose contribution of expertise and time in July, 2008
made this document possible:

Kelly Brodhagen, Parent and Wisconsin Assistive Technology Initiative Program Assistant, CESA #6
Lisa Dillhunt, Autism Program Support Teacher, Green Bay Area Public Schools
Cynthia Kieck, Pre K-5 Pupil Service Team Leader, School District of South Milwaukee
Laurie Miller, Autism Program Support Teacher, Fond du Lac School District
Susan Stokes, Autism Consultant, CESA #6
Jude Teicher, Autism Consultant, CESA #2
Susan Volz Nett, Autism Program Support Teacher, Madison Metropolitan School District

Additionally, special thanks to the following individuals who contributed to the initial draft of these materials:
Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction:
Sandy Berndt, Cognitive Disabilities Consultant
Pat Bober, Occupational Therapy Consultant
Lynn Boreson, Emotional Behavioral Disabilities Consultant
Sheryl Thormann, Speech/Language Consultant

Elizabeth Keenan, Former Director of Special Education, North Fond du Lac (WI) Schools
Lisa Schreiner, Teacher, La Crosse (WI) Schools
Michelle Sturz, Parent, Evansville, WI





Thanks to those who provided feedback on the Fall 2007 draft of these materials:
Autism Society of Wisconsin, Education Committee
Carol Zarske, Executive Director of Special Education, CESA 6
Gary D. Cumley, Associate Dean, School of Communicative Disorders, UW-Stevens Point
Julie LaBerge, Parent and Director of Special Education, Bonduel School District

Laura Comer

CESA 12
Julie Ellis

Racine
Mary Enright

CESA 1
Colleen Fredelake
Milwaukee
Amy Hamin

Wisconsin Rapids
Joan Helbing

Appleton
Janet Hoelker

Middleton-Cross Plains
Tracy Hougum
D. C. Everest
Karen Idso

Eau Claire
Carolyn Jahns

DePere
Amanda Jansen CESA 7
Barb Kilp

Milwaukee
April Knudson

DePere
Pat Konopka

Oshkosh
Tammy Lampereur
Ashwaubenon
Lisa Lesselyong
Kimberly
Veronica Milling
Elkhorn
Judi O’Brien

Appleton
Judy Olm

Fond du Lac
Melissa Piette

Wausau
Mary Smith

Manitowoc
Mikki Valona

Antigo
Marcy Worzala
Madison




2


TABLE OF CONTENTS


Introduction









4


Wisconsin Eligibility Criteria for Autism






7


Analysis of the criteria








8

• PI-11.36 (8) (a): Definition; Autism and EBD



8


• PI-11.36 (8) (b): Evaluation procedures




9
Tests and Checklists
Observations
Interviews

• PI-11.36 (8) (b) 1: Social Participation




13

• PI-11.36 (8) (b) 2: Communication





15

• PI-11.36 (8) (b) 3: Developmental Rates & Sequences


17

• PI-11.36 (8) (b) 4: Cognition






18

• PI-11.36 (8) (b) 5: Sensory Processing




19

• PI-11.36 (8) (b) 6: Behavioral Repertoire




21










Need for Special Education







22








Appendices










25












A. Evaluation Instruments - Examples





26

B. Eligibility Worksheet







31

C. Need for Special Education Worksheet




32

D. Bibliography and Resources






33






3

Introduction

Autism spectrum disorders are:
• Developmental disabilities.
• Usually evident before age three.
• Neurological disorders.

Autism is considered a spectrum disorder, meaning physical differences in the brains of individuals
with autism create
• Vastly differing neurological experiences;
• A wide continuum of symptoms;
• A range in severity;
• Wide variability among students.

Autism spectrum disorders occur across all socioeconomic, ethnic, cultural and geographic groups.
The incidence of autism spectrum disorders is higher among males than females.

The purpose of this guide is to provide information needed and processes to follow to determine
whether a student meets the eligibility criteria for the educational impairment area of autism under
the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.

Medical Diagnosis versus Educational Eligibility Determination
Federal and state special education law use the categorical term autism, which in special education
practice may include students with medical diagnoses of autism spectrum disorders such as:
• Autism,
• Pervasive Developmental Disorder – Not Otherwise Specified (PDD-NOS),
• Asperger’s Syndrome.

NOTE: A medical diagnosis of an autism spectrum disorder is not required in order to determine
whether a student meets eligibility criteria for the educational impairment area of autism. If
medical information is available it should be considered as part of the Individual Evaluation
Program (IEP) team’s evaluation but must not be the sole component. School personnel may not
require parents to obtain a medical diagnosis of an autism spectrum disorder before proceeding with
an educational evaluation.

IEP teams make educational eligibility determinations, not medical diagnoses.

Educational Eligibility Determination
IEP teams conduct evaluations of students to determine eligibility for special education. The IEP
team must determine whether the student meets the educational impairment criteria and, as a result,
needs special education services.

NOTE: A medical diagnosis of an autism spectrum disorder does not result in automatic eligibility
for special education under the impairment area of autism. It is also possible for a student to have
the educational impairment of autism but not need special education services.


4

When IEP teams evaluate students they must follow the required procedures and apply Wisconsin
eligibility criteria found in Chapter PI 11 of the Wisconsin Administrative Code. All IEP team
participants, including parents, are members of the team and must have an opportunity to
meaningfully participate in the decision making process.
Each IEP team must consist of the following:
• The parents of the child.
• At least one regular education teacher of the child if the child is, or may be, participating in
a regular educational environment.
• At least one special education teacher who has recent training or experience related to the
child’s known or suspected area of special education needs (in this case, autism) or, where
appropriate, at least one special education provider of the child.
• A representative of the local educational agency (LEA) who is qualified to provide, or
supervise the provision of, special education, is knowledgeable about the general curriculum
and is knowledgeable about and authorized to commit the available resources of the LEA.
• An individual who can interpret the instructional implications of evaluation results.
• At the discretion of the parent or the LEA, other individuals who have knowledge or special
expertise about the child, including related services personnel as appropriate.
• Whenever appropriate, the child.
• If a child is attending school through open enrollment or a tuition waiver, at least one person
designated by the resident district who has knowledge or special expertise about the child.
• When a child is suspected or known to need occupational therapy, physical therapy, or
speech and language therapy, a therapist in each respective area of service.

The LEA representative role may be fulfilled by another member of the IEP team provided the
individual meets the requirements to act in that capacity. The LEA should clearly identify on IEP
forms which role(s) each IEP team member is fulfilling.
The determination of whether an individual invited to the IEP team meeting by the parent or by the
LEA has knowledge or special expertise about the child is made by the party inviting the individual.
In addition to the legally required IEP team members, other school professionals are
recommended participants on IEP teams conducting educational autism evaluations
. For
example:
• Occupational therapists assess the effects of the environment and the demands of an
activity on the student's ability to perform functional skills, such as the effects of noise or
touch on social interaction.
• Physical therapists assess the student’s motor skills.
• School nurses bring expertise to evaluation of complex health needs.
• School psychologists provide important information about the student’s social functioning,
neurological functioning, developmental rates and sequences, etc. and are able to interpret
the instructional implications of evaluation results.
• School social workers provide insight into the student’s developmental history and how
the student functions and interacts in home, school and community environments.
• Speech and language therapists conduct assessments of the student’s communication
abilities and needs.


5

NOTE: Given the need to evaluate the student's social, communicative and sensory functioning it is
strongly recommended a school psychologist, occupational therapist (OT) and a speech/language
pathologist (SLP) be included as IEP team participants.

The IEP team evaluation process begins when the LEA initiates or receives a written referral or
initiates a reevaluation. Existing data is then reviewed by the IEP team members to determine if
additional tests or other assessment information is needed. If additional assessment information is
needed, the LEA obtains parental consent and proceeds with evaluation. Once evaluation is
completed (or if no additional assessment information is necessary), the IEP team meets to
determine whether the student meets the educational eligibility criteria. If the student meets the
eligibility criteria, the IEP team determines whether the student also demonstrates a need for special
education. In order for the student to be a student with a disability, the student must have an
impairment(s) and a need for special education.

All LEAs have an obligation to locate, identify, and evaluate all children with disabilities, including
children with disabilities attending private schools in the school district, regardless of the severity of
their disabilities. LEAs conduct Child Find activities to locate and screen all children with suspected
disabilities who have not graduated from high school.

Further information on the IEP team process, including DPI sample forms, can be found at
http://dpi.wi.gov/sped/tm-specedtopics.html or by contacting the DPI Special Education Team at
(608) 266-1781.



6

Wisconsin Eligibility Criteria for Autism: PI-11.36 (8)
AUTISM. (a) Autism means a developmental disability significantly affecting a child’s social interaction and
verbal and non-verbal communication, generally evident before age 3, that adversely affects learning and
educational performance. Other characteristics often associated with autism are engagement in repetitive
activities and stereotyped movements, resistance to environmental change or change in daily routines, and
unusual responses to sensory experiences. The term does not apply if a child’s educational performance is
adversely affected primarily because the child has an emotional disturbance, as defined in sub.(7).

(b) The results of standardized or norm–referenced instruments used to evaluate and identify a child under
this paragraph may not be reliable or valid. Therefore, alternative means of evaluation, such as criterion–
referenced assessments, achievement assessments, observation, and work samples, shall be considered to
identify a child under this paragraph. Augmentative communication strategies, such as facilitated
communication, picture boards, or signing shall be considered when evaluating a child under this
paragraph. To identify a child under this paragraph, the criteria under subd. 1. and 2. and one or more
criteria under subd. 3. through 6. shall be met.

1. The child displays difficulties or differences or both in interacting with people and events. The child may
be unable to establish and maintain reciprocal relationships with people. The child may seek consistency in
environmental events to the point of exhibiting rigidity in routines.

2. The child displays problems which extend beyond speech and language to other aspects of social
communication, both receptively and expressively. The child’s verbal language may be absent or, if present,
lacks the usual communicative form which may involve deviance or delay or both. The child may have a
speech or language disorder or both in addition to communication difficulties associated with autism.

3. The child exhibits delays, arrests, or regressions in motor, sensory, social or learning skills. The child may
exhibit precocious or advanced skill development, while other skills may develop at normal or extremely
depressed rates. The child may not follow normal developmental patterns in the acquisition of skills.

4. The child exhibits abnormalities in the thinking process and in generalizing. The child exhibits strengths in
concrete thinking while difficulties are demonstrated in abstract thinking, awareness and judgment.
Perseverant thinking and impaired ability to process symbolic information may be present.

5. The child exhibits unusual, inconsistent, repetitive or unconventional responses to sounds, sights, smells,
tastes, touch or movement. The child may have a visual or hearing impairment or both in addition to sensory
processing difficulties associated with autism.

6. The child displays marked distress over changes, insistence on following routines, and a persistent
preoccupation with or attachment to objects. The child’s capacity to use objects in an age–appropriate or
functional manner may be absent, arrested or delayed. The child may have difficulty displaying a range of
interests or imaginative activities or both. The child may exhibit stereotyped body movements.


7

Analysis of the Criteria
PI 11.36 (8) (a): DEFINITION
(a) Autism means a developmental disability significantly affecting a child’s social interaction and
verbal and non-verbal communication, generally evident before age 3, that adversely affects
learning and educational performance. Other characteristics often associated with autism are
engagement in repetitive activities and stereotyped movements, resistance to environmental change
or change in daily routines, and unusual responses to sensory experiences. The term does not apply
if a child’s educational performance is adversely affected primarily because the child has an
emotional disturbance, as defined in sub.(7)

NOTE: In order to identify a student as meeting the educational eligibility criteria for autism, the
IEP team must find the impairment adversely affects the student’s learning and educational
performance. Educational performance may include:
• Cognitive performance, including academic and pre-academic skills.
• Communication skills.
• Personal/Social skills.
• Sensory processing and motor planning skills.
• Adaptive skills, including self-help skills and activities of daily living.

Impact on educational performance may extend beyond the school environment and the school day.
While the student with autism may appear to function in an expected way at school, the student may
experience significant challenges later due to the effort required to manage the communication,
social, academic and sensory expectations of a typical school day. For example, the student may
not be able to complete homework which will ultimately impact academic performance.

Autism and Emotional Behavioral Disability
Paragraph (a) of the criteria includes the following: The term does not apply if a child’s educational
performance is adversely affected primarily because the child has an emotional disturbance.


Students may be identified as meeting educational eligibility criteria in more than one impairment
area. However, if the issues most significantly impacting educational performance for a particular
student relate to an emotional behavioral disability (EBD), the student can not meet the criteria for
the educational impairment of autism. If the issues most significantly impacting educational
performance for a student relate to autism it is possible for that student to also meet the educational
eligibility criteria for
EBD.
An evaluation guide for EBD is available at
http://dpi.wi.gov/sped/pdf/ebdguide.pdf.

NOTE: IEP teams should examine all sources of information and use professional judgment in
considering the educational needs of the student and decide which area(s) of impairment best match
the student’s needs.

When a student meets educational eligibility criteria for an impairment in any area, and as a result
needs special education services, the IEP team must develop an IEP designed to provide a free,
appropriate public education (FAPE), addressing the student’s individual needs. The IEP team must
not predetermine the student’s programming or placement based on the student’s identified area(s)
of impairment. The individual student’s goals and objectives contained in the IEP are the basis for
determining the student’s programming and placement.

8


PI 11.36 (8) (b): EVALUATION PROCEDURES
(b) The results of standardized or norm–referenced instruments used to evaluate and identify a
child under this paragraph may not be reliable or valid. Therefore, alternative means of evaluation,
such as criterion–referenced assessments, achievement assessments, observation, and work
samples, shall be considered to identify a child under this paragraph. Augmentative communication
strategies, such as facilitated communication, picture boards, or signing shall be considered when
evaluating a child under this paragraph. To identify a child under this paragraph, the criteria under
subd. 1. and 2. and one or more criteria under subd. 3. through 6. shall be met.

No single assessment method is sufficient when determining eligibility for the educational
impairment of autism. IEP teams must apply evaluation information gathered from multiple sources
using a variety of methods to each of the components of the impairment criteria in order to
determine eligibility. Some commercial assessment tools provide global scores used in making
clinical diagnoses of autism; however, these measures are not based on the Wisconsin eligibility
criteria and are not sufficient to make an educational eligibility determination without additional
information. Many assessment tools contain subtests which may be useful in assessing components
of the criteria.

NOTE: IEP teams must gather information from multiple sources using a variety of methods,
including:
• Observations in a range of environments,
• Standardized or norm-referenced tests,
• Intellectual testing,
• Informal and criterion-referenced tests,
• Rating scales and checklists,
• Structured interviews with parents, caregivers, regular education teachers, and others as
appropriate,
• Developmental histories,
• For early childhood students, the IEP team must observe the student in the natural learning
environment with same-age peers.

Not all techniques must be used in all cases, but IEP teams should carefully consider what
information is needed and select appropriate methods.

Standardized Tests, Assessments and Checklists
Students with autism often exhibit characteristics that make assessment challenging. Students may
demonstrate communication deficits, sensory processing challenges, difficulty relating to unknown
people and situations, problems with attention and perception, lack of motivation, or unconventional
behavior. Evaluators may need to be flexible in administration of standardized testing. While this
may negate the validity of the test results, useful information about the student’s response to stress
and frustration, interpersonal relationships, and communication may be obtained. Special
consideration should be given to the testing environment due to potential sensory processing issues.
Be aware of factors that may impact the student’s ability to attend to the testing, and remove
potentially distracting materials before the student arrives. Testing sessions of shorter duration may
be most successful. Evaluators should be willing to end the session rather than allow the student to
experience unnecessary stress or frustration.


9

In selecting evaluation materials, the following questions may be useful:

Standardized or norm-referenced materials
• What information will the instrument give and is that information necessary and useful?
• Does the information relate to the Wisconsin impairment eligibility criteria?
• Will the information provided present an accurate picture of the student?
• Is the test appropriate for the student’s chronological and developmental levels?
• What are the language requirements of the test? Do they match the ability level, learning
style and/or communication modality of the student?

• What are the physical requirements of the test (length of administration, fine motor skills,
etc)? How does that compare to the abilities of the student?
• Is the format consistent throughout the test? Does the format of the test match the student’s
abilities? For example, if the student is not able to respond by pointing, do not choose a test
that requires a pointing response. Can the format be taught or practiced prior to
administration without compromising the results?
• Is the test culturally relevant and appropriate given the student’s experience? Will the
assessment be administered so as not to be biased on a racial or cultural basis?

Checklists or rating scales
• Does the checklist focus on necessary information?
• Does the checklist use family/student friendly language?
• Does the checklist look at the whole student or does it focus primarily on a limited area?
• How reliable and current is the checklist? Does it relate to the Wisconsin impairment
eligibility criteria?
• Are there subscales (e.g., teacher, parent, student)? Are results based on the input of more
than one person?
• Is the checklist a “yes-no” format or is it a Likert scale (e.g., multiple responses such as “0”
to “5” or “Never” to “Always”)? If it is a Likert scale, are there an even or odd number of
responses? (Note: an even number is preferable so the responder(s) do not have the option
of choosing the middle response.)


Some commonly used instruments by school personnel are listed in Appendix A on page 26.
Since new products are always being developed and existing materials updated and re-normed, it is
best to check with the publishing companies to make sure you are considering the latest edition.

NOTE: IEP teams must exercise caution in interpreting scores from standardized assessments,
checklists, and rating scales. These measures are not based on the Wisconsin eligibility criteria. IEP
teams must not make decisions about eligibility based solely on these scores.

Observations
Observing the student in a variety of natural learning environments is critical for understanding the
student. Examples of natural learning environments may include:
• Classrooms,
• Hallways,
• The cafeteria,
• Special classes such as computer lab, library, art, music, and physical education,
• Assemblies/field trips,

10

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