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Montana: Ed officials want to change criteria for ASD students; would lead to 'drastic reduction'

Mar 12, 2019, Education Week: Helena, MT—Officials want to change how to identify autistic students https://www.edweek.org/ew/articles/2019/03/11/officials-want-to-change-how-to_ap.html Montana education officials want to change the criteria for identifying children with autism by creating a checklist of characteristics, a proposal that disability rights advocates say would lead to a drastic reduction of educational services to autistic children. The changes proposed by Superintendent of Public Instruction Elsie Arntzen would require that students show 14 of 30 characteristics to qualify as having autism. Examples include "does not use gestures for communication" and "does not initiate or maintain eye contact while interacting with others." The checklist was developed because the current criteria were established nearly two decades ago and don't reflect new knowledge, state Office of Public Instruction officials said. "The sole reason for the change is to better identify students with autism using modern research and knowledge," said Doug Doty, the agency's Autism Education Project statewide coordinator. "We all work to make life better for kids, not to reduce services."… Disability Rights Montana attorney Tal Goldin said no other state has such a checklist. Montana's plan is not based on science and would create the most restrictive system in the nation for identifying a child with autism, he said…. Under the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, schools are required to prepare individualized education programs for children identified with autism. The plans assess the students' abilities and needs, set goals and aim to modify behavior. If the new criteria is adopted by the state Office of Public Instruction after a public hearing, the immediate effect would be a drop in the number of children with autism who are coming into the school system requiring individual plans, Goldin said. …

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