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Information on how eligibility for special education services is determined for students in Texas.

“Upon completion of the Full Individual and Initial Evaluation (FIIE), the admission, review, and dismissal (ARD) committee must determine whether:

  • The child has a disability; and
  • By reason of the disability, the child needs special education and related services.” (The Legal Framework, 2018)

Assessment in the public schools is conducted for the purposes of identification or establishing eligibility for special education services and to assist in planning an individualized education program (IEP). In Texas, evaluation for identification requires that a licensed or certified specialist, such as a licensed specialist in school psychology or a speech/language pathologist, be involved in the assessment. It is the responsibility of the public schools to provide an evaluation when a student demonstrates characteristics consistent with an autism eligibility at no expense to the family.

Eligibility versus Diagnosis

Eligibility of AutismDiagnosis of Autism
Based on federal law (IDEA)Based on a set of criteria (e.g. DSM-5, ICD-10
Refers to a broad disability categoryRefers to a single diagnosis dimension: autism spectrum disorder (ASD)
Used only in the public-school systemUsed in private settings
Must be determined by a teamMay be determined by an individual or team

A child may receive a diagnosis of autism from a physician or other professional in the public sector (i.e., psychologist), and this diagnosis may not be equivalent to eligibility for that child to receive special education services in the public-school system. This situation can be particularly confusing for parents. In order for a child to be eligible for special education supports and services, his or her disability must have an adverse effect on the student’s education. Considerations for eligibility should include factors beyond traditional academics. According to federal law (IDEA), the purpose of special education is “to ensure that all children with disabilities have available to them a free appropriate public education that emphasizes special education and related services designed to meet their unique needs and prepare them for further education, employment, and independent living” (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, 2004, §300.1). In order to properly prepare students in these areas, interventions for a range of educational needs, beyond those for traditional academics must be employed. Educational need may include:

  • Academic performance
  • Communication functioning
  • Pragmatic language
  • Social functioning
  • Behavior
  • Organizational skills
  • Problem-solving
  • Group work skills
  • Emotional regulation
  • Hygiene
  • Attention
  • Daily living skills/adaptive behavior
  • Vocational needs

Texas Eligibility Criteria for Autism

Autism is a developmental disability where the hallmark characteristics are social-communication deficits and repetitive interests/behaviors (RRB). For a student to receive educational services in Texas, these behaviors must significantly affect a child’s educational performance. The following federal and state regulations provide guidance for educational assessment teams when identifying students with autism:

Federal Regulations

34 Code of Federal Regulations §300.8. Child with a disability

(c) Definitions of disability terms. The terms used in this definition of a child with a disability are defined as follows:

  1. Autism means a developmental disability significantly affecting verbal and nonverbal communication and social interaction, generally evident before age three, that adversely affects a child’s educational performance. Other characteristics often associated with autism include engagement in repetitive activities and stereotyped movements, resistance to environmental change or change in daily routines, and unusual responses to sensory experiences.
  2. Autism does not apply if a child’s educational performance is adversely affected primarily because the child has an emotional disturbance, as defined in paragraph (c)(4) of this section.
  3. A child who manifests the characteristics of autism after age three could be identified as having autism if the criteria in paragraph (c)(1)(i) of this section are satisfied. (34 CFR §300.8(c)(1)

Texas Commissioner’s Rules Concerning Special Education

The Texas Commissioner’s Rules concerning special education services are found in the Texas Administrative Code, Eligibility Definitions and states the following:

(1) Autism. A student with autism is one who has been determined to meet the criteria for autism as stated in 34 CFR, §300.8(c)(1). Students with pervasive developmental disorders are included under this category. The team's written report of evaluation must include specific recommendations for behavioral interventions and strategies. (19TAC, §89.1040(c)(1))