Even though public school programs are mandated by state and federal law to quickly and accurately identify children with ASD and other conditions, ASD continues to be under- and mis-identified in many places across the United States. When I assumed the leadership of DAP, the combination of a cursory protocol, combined with an incomplete and outdated definition of autism in state regulations, made it difficult to differentiate autism from related conditions or to confidently identify ASD in very young children, and impossible to capture the entire spectrum. As a result, the rapid increase in rates of identification in Delaware threatened to overwhelm existing services and lead to a dramatic decrease in program quality.
I led intensive, multi-day training in ASD classification for more than 85 professionals across 8 school districts, either conducting the training myself or enlisting independent experts. developing all of the associated training materials, and for providing follow-up coaching and consultation. I was also responsible for a program to educate DAP staff, partners, and community partners about these changes to the identification of ASD.
Over my career at DAP, I was involved in several hundred assessments for the purpose of the educational classification of ASD, conducting portions of the assessment, or leading or consulting with multidisciplinary teams conducting these assessments.
We also updated state regulations pertaining to the educational classification of ASD to be consistent with the recommendations of the consistent with the consensus-based guidelines of the National Research Council (2001). The new state regulations aligned the educational classification criteria with the DSM-IV, expanded it to include Asperger Disorder and PDD-NOS), and defined a rigorous assessment protocol.
The requests I received to consider adopting other programs prompted me to look closely at the students served by these programs, and I discovered that advocates of these programs did not recognize that they only served a subset of the overall population. Sometimes the exclusion of certain kinds of students was quite explicit; other times it was the consequence of other policies; some programs specifically excluded students with significantly challenging behaviors; some programs adopted curricula that presumed a certain level of ability, and so perhaps unintentionally excluded students with more significant intellectual disabilities. These were important considerations in any recommendation to adopt a program, because they helped us to estimate the proportion of our student population that might benefit. I also found that program advocates did not always recognize that the exclusion of these students should temper the program's claims of success, and so I learned to pay careful attention to these explicit and implicit exclusion criteria.