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Autism Research and Treatment
Volume 2014, Article ID 327271, 8 pages
Research Article

Defining Autism: Variability in State Education Agency Definitions of and Evaluations for Autism Spectrum Disorders

1Special Education, Department of Curriculum, Instruction, and Counselor Education, NC State University, Poe Hall 602, Campus Box 7801, Raleigh, NC 27695-7801, USA
2North Carolina State University, Raleigh, NC 27607, USA

Received 24 December 2013; Revised 28 March 2014; Accepted 23 May 2014; Published 2 June 2014

Academic Editor: Geraldine Dawson

Copyright © 2014 Malinda L. Pennington et al. This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.


In light of the steady rise in the prevalence of students with autism, this study examined the definition of autism published by state education agencies (SEAs), as well as SEA-indicated evaluation procedures for determining student qualification for autism. We compared components of each SEA definition to aspects of autism from two authoritative sources: Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV-TR) and Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act (IDEA-2004). We also compared SEA-indicated evaluation procedures across SEAs to evaluation procedures noted in IDEA-2004. Results indicated that many more SEA definitions incorporate IDEA-2004 features than DSM-IV-TR features. However, despite similar foundations, SEA definitions of autism displayed considerable variability. Evaluation procedures were found to vary even more across SEAs. Moreover, within any particular SEA there often was little concordance between the definition (what autism is) and evaluation procedures (how autism is recognized). Recommendations for state and federal policy changes are discussed.