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Section I.Definition of Autism

The Legislative Task Force on Autism Spectrum Disorders recognizes that there is not a universally accepted, precise definition of autism. It also accepts that autism is a group of disorders rather than a specific diagnosis. However, there is consensus among the applicable professional standard setting groups and public agencies that autism is a spectrum of neuro-developmental disorders with common behavioral characteristics.  

These characteristics include 1) impaired social development; 2) impaired language development; and 3) rigid, stereotyped, repetitive patterns of unusual behavior, interests or activities. For purposes of this project, the Task Force follows the general descriptive terms used by two diagnostic classification systems. The American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic Statistical Manual-IV (DSM-IV) and the World Health Organization’s International Classification of Diseases (ICD-10) are the two most widely used diagnostic systems. These two systems list autism spectrum disorders under the umbrella term, Pervasive Developmental Disorders. The three primary autism spectrum disorders are Autism, Asperger’s and Pervasive Developmental Disorder—Not Otherwise Specified.

Eligibility for Services

There is a significant distinction between diagnosis and service eligibility.  Diagnosis relates to whether or not the individual meets the specific constellation of symptoms required for the clinical disorder. Service eligibility relates to whether or not the individual with a specific diagnosis has functional deficits in the areas of the state agency’s program services and focus. For example, educational/academic or learning problems are the focus deficit area for the Department of Education programs, work deficits for the Division of Vocational Rehabilitation (DVR) and Social Security Disability programs, adaptive behavior deficits for the Division of Developmental Disabilities Services programs, and developmental delay for Child Development Watch, etc. Therefore, to receive services, an individual must also meet the required functional deficits for eligibility established by the various state agencies in addition to having a specific diagnosis. The Department of Education, Vocational Rehabilitation, Social Security Disability, Child Development Watch (Birth to 3 Program) and Division of Developmental Disabilities Services programs each address some but not all of the disorders within the autism spectrum to some extent.  

The full subcommittee report on both definition and eligibility are located in Appendix C.

Findings

Autism is defined as a spectrum of neuro-developmental disorders with common behavioral characteristics. These are 1) impaired social development; 2) impaired language development; and 3) unusual behavior, interests or activities.  For the purpose

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