professionals, even before this time, and more children are being referred for specific educational interventions for autistic spectrum disorders. However, diagnostic and screening instruments effective with children under age 2 have not yet been identified. Although children with autistic spectrum disorders share some disabilities with children with other developmental disorders, they offer unique challenges to families, teachers, and others who work with them, particularly in nonverbal and verbal communication and behavioral problems.

The committee recommends that the National Institutes of Health and the Department of Education’s Office of Special Education Programs, in cooperation with professional organizations and through support for research and training, promote early identification, appropriate screening, and multidisciplinary assessment for young children with autistic spectrum disorders, as is done for children with vision or hearing problems. In addition, because of variability in early diagnosis and test scores, young children with autistic spectrum disorders should always receive an appropriate follow-up diagnostic and educational assessment within 1–2 years after initial evaluation.

ROLE OF FAMILIES

What are the needs of families of children with autistic spectrum disorders and how can they effectively participate in education and intervention?

Having a child with an autistic spectrum disorder is a challenge for any family. Involvement of families in the education of young children with autistic spectrum disorders can occur at multiple levels. Parents can learn to successfully apply skills to changing their children’s behavior. Parents’ use of effective teaching methods, support from within the family and the community, and access to balanced information about autistic spectrum disorders and the range of appropriate services can contribute to successful child and family functioning. It is crucially important to make information available to parents to ensure their active role in advocacy for their children’s education.

The committee recommends that families’ participation should be supported in education through consistent presentation of information by local school systems, through ongoing consultation and individualized problem solving, and through the opportunity to learn techniques for teaching their children new skills and reducing behavioral problems. Although families should not be expected to provide the majority of educational programming for their child, the parents’ concerns and perspectives should actively help shape educational planning.



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