Kids with Asperger's syndrome have a hard time interpreting facial expressions and picking up on the social cues most people rely on to function in interactions with others. If you have a child with Asperger's, you know how much help AS kids need in school and elsewhere. Whether your child is considered to have special needs or not depends on his diagnosis and the laws in your state.
AS and Education
The Individuals with Disabilities Act requires schools to educate all children equally to the greatest extent possible. The School of Education at John Hopkins University treats Asperger's syndrome as a learning disability for the purposes of this act and trains teachers in the special needs of AS students, while noting that AS students can present some of the characteristics of students in a "gifted and talented" program. AS students often display obsessive interest in and encyclopedic knowledge about an obscure topic that appeals to them, while disregarding topics that don't interest them. Because kids with AS can be highly functional in many areas of life, adults unfamiliar with the syndrome might not think of your child with Asperger's as having special needs unless you educate them about the disorder. Your ability to access services for your child can also depend on the definition of special needs.
Special Needs Assessment
According to the Center for the Improvement of Child Caring website, there are two approaches to determining whether a child is considered to have special needs for the purpose of accessing services. The Functional Development method assesses a number of developmental criteria, such as motor skills or social development. Because kids with Asperger's syndrome have difficulty with social interactions, your child might be assessed as a special needs student under this approach, depending on the severity of his symptoms. The Clinical Diagnostic method defines any child with a diagnosis such as autism as a special needs child. Asperger's syndrome was originally considered distinct from autism but is now considered a type of high-functioning autism. However, some children with an AS diagnosis will not receive an autism diagnosis under the new criteria.
With the release of the fifth edition of the American Psychiatric Association's Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders in 2013, Asperger's syndrome was no longer recognized as a distinct diagnosis by the American psychiatric community. Instead, the DSM-V defined Asperger's as a term for high-functioning autism. At the same time, the DSM-V changed the criteria for an autism diagnosis to reduce the likelihood of over-diagnosing autism. Most kids with an AS diagnosis should meet the criteria for a diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder, but some will not. Those who receive an autism diagnosis should qualify for any special needs program, but those who do not may not be considered special needs despite their prior diagnosis of Asperger's syndrome.
Many parents of kids with AS are concerned that their children might not qualify for services under the new DSM-V criteria. However, an autism diagnosis may not be the only way to qualify for a program. For instance, the state of California uses a broad definition of special needs that includes any child covered under the Americans with Disabilities Act, any child covered under the Individuals with Disabilities Act, any child with one of several diagnoses under the DSM and even children who don't meet any of these criteria but who still need extra help of some kind. If your child does not meet the criteria for an autism diagnosis under the DSM-V, check the specific requirements for the programs you want to access rather than assuming your child won't qualify.
- John Hopkins School of Education: Teaching Strategies for Asperger Students
- Kids Health: Asperger Syndrome
- Center for the Improvement of Child Caring: What Is a Special Need?
- State of California: First 5 Special Needs Definition
- Autism Research Institute: Updates to the APA in DSM-V – What Do The Changes Mean to Families Living With Autism?
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