Is Autism Considered Special Needs?

One question that often comes up is whether autism is considered a special need. The answer is yes, autism is generally classified as a special need.

reuben kesherim
Published By Ruben Kesherim
February 8, 2024

Is Autism Considered Special Needs?

Understanding Autism

Autism is a complex neurodevelopmental disorder that affects individuals in various ways. To gain a better understanding of autism, it is important to explore what autism is and how it is categorized within the autism spectrum.

What is Autism?

Autism, also known as autism spectrum disorder (ASD), is a lifelong condition that impacts an individual's social interaction, communication, and behavior. It is characterized by a wide range of symptoms and challenges that can vary from person to person.

Autism affects the way individuals perceive and interact with the world around them. It is not a disease or a result of poor parenting, but rather a neurological difference that influences how individuals process information and navigate social situations.

Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD)

Autism falls under the umbrella term of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). The term "spectrum" is used because the condition encompasses a wide range of symptoms and abilities. The severity of autism can vary greatly from mild to severe, with each individual experiencing a unique combination of strengths and challenges.

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) provides a diagnostic criteria for ASD, which includes persistent deficits in social communication and interaction, as well as the presence of restricted, repetitive patterns of behavior, interests, or activities.

The diagnosis is made based on the assessment of these criteria by qualified professionals, such as psychologists or developmental pediatricians.

It is important to note that autism is not a single condition with a uniform set of characteristics. Instead, it is a spectrum that encompasses individuals with different strengths, abilities, and challenges. Understanding the diversity within the autism spectrum is essential in providing appropriate support and services to individuals with autism.

By gaining a deeper understanding of what autism is and how it is classified within the autism spectrum, we can better appreciate the unique experiences of individuals with autism and work towards creating a more inclusive and supportive society for them.

girl in pink and white floral dress riding on swing during daytime

Special Needs and Autism

When discussing autism, it's important to understand how it relates to the concept of special needs. In this section, we will define special needs and explore whether autism is considered a special need.

Defining Special Needs

Special needs refer to a range of conditions or circumstances that require additional support and accommodations to meet an individual's unique requirements. These needs can be physical, cognitive, emotional, or developmental in nature. Special needs can manifest in various ways and may impact an individual's ability to participate fully in typical daily activities or educational settings.

Is Autism Considered a Special Need?

Yes, autism is considered a special need. Autism, formally known as Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), is a neurodevelopmental disorder that affects individuals' social communication and behavior. It is characterized by a range of challenges, including difficulties with social interaction, communication, and repetitive behaviors.

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) in the United States considers autism to be a qualifying condition for special education services. This recognition acknowledges that individuals with autism often require additional support and accommodations to thrive in educational settings.

Furthermore, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) categorizes autism as a neurodevelopmental disorder, emphasizing its unique characteristics and the need for specialized interventions and support.

Autism's inclusion as a special need highlights the importance of providing tailored resources, therapies, and educational programs to address the specific challenges faced by individuals on the autism spectrum.

Understanding that autism is considered a special need can help parents, educators, and communities advocate for appropriate support and services that promote the overall well-being and success of individuals with autism. By recognizing and addressing the unique needs of individuals on the autism spectrum, we can foster inclusivity, understanding, and opportunities for growth.

The Unique Challenges of Autism

Autism presents unique challenges that affect individuals in various aspects of their lives. These challenges primarily manifest in social and communication difficulties, sensory sensitivities, and repetitive behaviors and restricted interests.

Social and Communication Difficulties

Individuals with autism often experience challenges in social interactions and communication. They may struggle with understanding social cues, maintaining eye contact, and engaging in reciprocal conversations. Difficulties in social communication can make it challenging for individuals with autism to form and maintain relationships, both with peers and adults.

Social and Communication Difficulties

  • Challenges in understanding social cues
  • Difficulty maintaining eye contact
  • Struggles in engaging in reciprocal conversations
  • Challenges in forming and maintaining relationships

Sensory Sensitivities

Sensory sensitivities are common among individuals with autism. They may experience heightened sensitivity or hypo-sensitivity to sensory stimuli, such as sounds, lights, textures, and smells. This sensitivity can lead to sensory overload or withdrawal, resulting in discomfort and difficulty processing information from the environment.

Sensory Sensitivities

  • Heightened sensitivity or hypo-sensitivity to sensory stimuli
  • Sensory overload or withdrawal
  • Discomfort in processing information from the environment

Repetitive Behaviors and Restricted Interests

Repetitive behaviors and restricted interests are characteristic features of autism. These behaviors can manifest in various forms, such as repetitive movements (e.g., hand flapping, rocking), adherence to strict routines, and intense focus on specific topics or objects. These behaviors and interests often serve as a source of comfort and self-regulation for individuals with autism.

Repetitive Behaviors and Restricted Interests

  • Repetitive movements (e.g., hand flapping, rocking)
  • Adherence to strict routines
  • Intense focus on specific topics or objects

Understanding these unique challenges is essential in providing appropriate support and accommodations for individuals with autism. By recognizing and addressing these difficulties, we can create an inclusive and supportive environment that allows individuals with autism to thrive and reach their full potential.

Support and Services for Individuals with Autism

When it comes to supporting individuals with autism, there are various resources and services available to help them thrive in their daily lives. This section will explore some of the key support systems that can make a positive impact on individuals with autism and their families.

Individualized Education Programs (IEPs)

Individualized Education Programs (IEPs) play a vital role in providing tailored education for students with autism. An IEP is a personalized plan developed by a team of educators, parents, and specialists to address the specific needs of the individual.

The primary goal of an IEP is to create an inclusive learning environment that promotes academic growth and personal development. It outlines the student's unique learning objectives, accommodations, and supports required to meet their educational goals. IEPs may include specialized instruction, speech therapy, occupational therapy, and other services to address the individual's specific challenges and strengths.

Therapies and Interventions

Therapies and interventions are essential components of the support system for individuals with autism. These interventions aim to improve communication skills, social interactions, and behavioral patterns.

Some common therapies and interventions for individuals with autism include:

Therapy/Intervention Description
Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) A behavioral therapy that focuses on teaching new skills and reducing problematic behaviors through positive reinforcement.
Speech Therapy Helps individuals with autism improve their communication skills, including speech, language, and social communication.
Occupational Therapy Aims to enhance the individual's ability to perform everyday tasks and improve sensory integration, fine motor skills, and self-regulation.
Social Skills Training Teaches individuals with autism how to navigate social situations, build relationships, and interpret social cues.
Sensory Integration Therapy Assists individuals in managing sensory sensitivities and improving sensory processing abilities.

The choice of therapy or intervention depends on the individual's needs and strengths, and a comprehensive assessment by professionals can help determine the most suitable approach.

Community Resources

Communities offer a range of resources and support services for individuals with autism and their families. These resources can provide valuable guidance, information, and opportunities for socialization. Some common community resources include:

  • Autism support groups: These groups bring together individuals with autism and their families to share experiences, knowledge, and emotional support.
  • Recreational programs: Community centers often offer specialized programs and activities tailored to individuals with autism, promoting social interaction and skill-building.
  • Respite care services: Respite care services provide temporary relief to parents or caregivers of individuals with autism, offering them time to recharge and take care of their own well-being.
  • Vocational training: Vocational training programs help individuals with autism develop skills necessary for employment, enhancing their independence and self-sufficiency.

Community resources can vary by location, so it's important to research and connect with local organizations or autism advocacy groups to explore the available support services in your area.

By accessing individualized education programs, therapies, and community resources, individuals with autism can receive the support they need to reach their full potential and lead fulfilling lives. These resources play a crucial role in creating an inclusive society that embraces and supports individuals with autism and their families.

Advocacy and Awareness

Advocacy and awareness play a crucial role in promoting inclusivity and understanding for individuals with autism. By fostering a society that embraces neurodiversity and breaking stereotypes, we can create a more inclusive environment for everyone.

Promoting Inclusion and Understanding

Promoting inclusion and understanding is vital in ensuring that individuals with autism are fully recognized and accepted in society. This involves creating spaces that are accessible and accommodating to their unique needs. It also means providing education and resources to the community to increase awareness and understanding of autism.

By promoting inclusion, we can create an environment where individuals with autism can fully participate and contribute to society. This can be achieved through initiatives such as inclusive education programs, workplace accommodations, and community events that celebrate diversity.

Embracing Neurodiversity

Embracing neurodiversity means recognizing and valuing the various neurological differences that exist among individuals, including those with autism. It is about appreciating the strengths and abilities that come with these differences rather than focusing solely on the challenges they may face.

By embracing neurodiversity, we can shift the narrative surrounding autism from a deficit-based perspective to one that celebrates the unique strengths and talents of individuals on the autism spectrum. This can lead to greater acceptance and opportunities for individuals with autism to thrive in various aspects of life, including education, employment, and social interactions.

Breaking Stereotypes

Breaking stereotypes is essential in combating the misconceptions and stigmas associated with autism. Stereotypes can limit opportunities and perpetuate biases against individuals with autism. It is crucial to challenge these stereotypes and promote a more accurate understanding of autism.

By breaking stereotypes, we can dispel myths and misconceptions surrounding autism, fostering a more inclusive and accepting society. This can be achieved through public awareness campaigns, media representation that accurately portrays individuals with autism, and providing platforms for individuals with autism to share their stories and experiences.

Advocacy and awareness are powerful tools in creating a society that values and supports individuals with autism. By promoting inclusion, embracing neurodiversity, and breaking stereotypes, we can work towards a more inclusive and accepting world for individuals with autism and their families.

Strategies for promoting social inclusion for individuals with ASD

Social inclusion is an important aspect of life that allows individuals to feel valued and connected to their community. Unfortunately, individuals with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) often struggle with social interaction and may feel excluded from their peers. However, there are strategies that can be used to promote social inclusion for individuals with ASD.

1. Social Skills Training

One effective strategy for promoting social inclusion for individuals with ASD is social skills training. This type of training helps individuals learn how to interact with others in a positive way. It can include teaching skills such as making eye contact, initiating conversation, and understanding nonverbal cues.

2. Peer Mentoring Programs

Peer mentoring programs can also be beneficial for individuals with ASD. These programs pair individuals with a peer mentor who can provide support and guidance in social situations. The mentor may help the individual navigate group interactions or practice specific social skills.

3. Inclusive Activities

Inclusive activities are another way to promote social inclusion for individuals with ASD. These types of activities are designed to be accessible and enjoyable for everyone, regardless of ability level. For example, a school may organize a sensory-friendly dance or a community center may offer inclusive sports programs.

4. Accommodations in the Classroom or Workplace

Finally, accommodations in the classroom or workplace can also help promote social inclusion for individuals with ASD. For example, providing a quiet workspace or allowing extra time on tests can help reduce stress and anxiety levels, which can improve overall well-being and increase participation in group settings.

By implementing these strategies and recognizing autism as a special need, we can work towards creating more inclusive environments where all individuals have the opportunity to thrive socially and emotionally.


What other conditions are considered special needs?

As mentioned earlier, special needs is a broad term that encompasses a wide range of conditions and disabilities. Some other examples of conditions that may be considered special needs include ADHD, Down syndrome, cerebral palsy, and dyslexia.

Is autism always considered a special need?

While autism is generally classified as a special need, the severity of the condition can vary widely from person to person. Some individuals with autism may require minimal support or accommodations, while others may require more extensive assistance. Ultimately, whether or not someone with autism is considered to have a special need will depend on their individual circumstances.

How do I know if my child with autism qualifies for special education services?

If your child has been diagnosed with autism, they may be eligible for special education services through their school district. To determine eligibility, you can request an evaluation from the school's special education department. The evaluation will assess your child's strengths and challenges and determine what types of supports and accommodations they may need to succeed in school.

Are there any legal protections for individuals with autism as a special need?

Yes! There are several laws in place to protect the rights of individuals with disabilities, including those with autism. The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) requires schools to provide free appropriate public education (FAPE) to students with disabilities.

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) prohibits discrimination against individuals with disabilities in employment, housing, and public accommodations.


In conclusion, autism is considered a special need because it affects an individual's ability to communicate and interact with others.

Recognizing autism as a special need is essential for ensuring that individuals with autism receive the support and accommodations they need to succeed. By working to create a more inclusive and accommodating society, we can help individuals with autism and other special needs thrive.