About Special Education services

Children with autism are likely to qualify for support services from the school system.

  • These services are called Special Education.

  • The services start at age 3. You don't have to wait until kindergarten!

  • The school system may be able to offer some of the therapies and services in your home, or at your child's preschool.

  • You will have to get a separate evaluation, even if your child had Early Intervention, and even if they have an autism diagnosis.

  • If your child is a teen, you can still start the process of seeing if they qualify.

What can special education offer my child? Therapy to help with things like speech, coordination, emotions, and behaviors; specialized instruction in their school or preschool; a behavior plan to help manage challenging behaviors; possible access to a specialized school or preschool.

Here's what you can do:

  • Call your public school district's special education department. Tell them about your child and ask how to start the process of qualifying. The first step is to get an evaluation.

  • Gather your child's medical records and the results from any evaluations they've had. Make sure to include the records for the autism diagnosis.


Click on the boxes below to learn more:


Once you've set the process in motion, your child will be scheduled for an evaluation.

What is the evaluation?

  • It's a set of assessments (tests) done by a special education specialist to see if a child qualifies for special education.

  • It helps to understand  a child's challenges and needs for support in different areas of development and learning.

  • If this confirms that your child has a disability that affects their learning, then they will qualify for special services and instruction.

The school system should pay for this evaluation. 


What happens next?

  • If your child qualifies for Special Education, you and the school will work together to create a plan that outlines the services your child will get.  This plan is called an Individualized Education Program, or IEP.

  • If you don't agree with the results, you can choose to get a different one (called an Independent Educational Evaluation or IEE).  You might have to pay for this yourself!

Note: The school evaluation will not necessarily include a diagnosis of autism, even if you have one from your doctor. You may have to push for this. It's important that the evaluation has a complete picture of your child's needs so they can get the right therapy and supports. For example, if this evaluation says that your child has developmental and learning problems, but not autism, it may make it harder for you to get ABA therapy included in the services.

For a very detailed description of assessments for ASD, see A Parents to Assessment. (Click on it to open a web page in a new window. You can download this 66-page booklet from the Organization for Autism Research.)

To learn more about this process, see our Special Education Guide!



Sources: MA DESE, Center for Parent Information and Resources