Trends in special education eligibility among children with autism spectrum disorder, 2002-2010

Eric Rubenstein, Julie Daniels, Laura A. Schieve, Deborah L. Christensen, Kim Van Naarden Braun, Catherine E. Rice, Amanda V. Bakian, Maureen S. Durkin, Steven A. Rosenberg, Russell S. Kirby, Li Ching Lee

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

6 Scopus citations


Objective: Although data on publicly available special education are informative and offer a glimpse of trends in autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and use of educational services, using these data for population-based public health monitoring has drawbacks. Our objective was to evaluate trends in special education eligibility among 8-year-old children with ASD identified in the Autism and Developmental Disabilities Monitoring Network. Methods: We used data from 5 Autism and Developmental Disabilities Monitoring Network sites (Arizona, Colorado, Georgia, Maryland, and North Carolina) during 4 surveillance years (2002, 2006, 2008, and 2010) and compared trends in 12 categories of special education eligibility by sex and race/ethnicity. We used multivariable linear risk regressions to evaluate how the proportion of children with a given eligibility changed over time. Results: Of 6010 children with ASD, more than 36% did not receive an autism eligibility in special education in each surveillance year. From surveillance year 2002 to surveillance year 2010, autism eligibility increased by 3.6 percentage points (P =.09), and intellectual disability eligibility decreased by 4.6 percentage points (P <.001). A greater proportion of boys than girls had an autism eligibility in 2002 (56.3% vs 48.8%). Compared with other racial/ethnic groups, Hispanic children had the largest increase in proportion with autism eligibility from 2002 to 2010 (15.4%, P =.005) and the largest decrease in proportion with intellectual disability (–14.3%, P =.004). Conclusion: Although most children with ASD had autism eligibility, many received special education services under other categories, and racial/ethnic disparities persisted. To monitor trends in ASD prevalence, public health officials need access to comprehensive data collected systematically, not just special education eligibility.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)85-92
Number of pages8
JournalPublic health reports
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 1 2018


  • Autism spectrum disorder
  • Prevalence
  • Special education
  • Surveillance
  • Trends

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health


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