Understanding Autism in Young Children
This module expands on the ECPC curriculum modules for the EI/ECSE Standards. The learning resources provided are designed to be used in both pre-service and in-service to facilitate the integration of the knowledge and skills addressed by this topic. The learning resources specifically address characteristics of autism, criteria used to diagnose autism and effective evidence-based strategies used for supporting young children with autism and their families.
The following EI/ECSE Standards and components are addressed in this curriculum module.
- Standard 1: Child Development and Early Learning, Component 1.4
- Standard 4: Assessment Processes, Component 4.4
- Standard 6: Using Responsive and Reciprocal Interactions, Interventions, and Instruction, Component 6.1, Component 6.2, Component 6.3
The purpose of this module is to (a) introduce the characteristics of autism spectrum disorder (ASD), (b) define the criteria used to diagnose children with ASD and (c) describe effective evidence-based strategies, and (d) plan for implementing intervention and instruction. The learning resources provided are designed to be used in both pre-service and in-service to facilitate the integration of the knowledge and skills to support young children with autism spectrum disorder and their families. It is designed to be used flexibly for preservice and ongoing professional development.
After engaging with these resources, learners will be able to:
- Define the characteristics of autism spectrum disorder (ASD).
- Explain the criteria used to diagnose children with ASD.
- Identify the onset of ASD characteristics.
- Explain the types of ASD screening and evaluation tools.
- Describe the differences between screening and evaluation tools.
- Describe comorbid diagnoses associated with ASD.
- Describe supportive environments for young children with ASD.
- Identify effective interventions and plan for instruction to address educational outcomes, improve skill repertoire, and facilitate success in the least restrictive educational environment.
- Identify pseudoscientific practices used
- Understanding Autism in Young Children Module Part 1
- Understanding Autism in Young Children Module Part 2
This sample syllabus provides ideas for resources, activities, readings, and assignments, aligned with the EI/ECSE standards. Consider state and university policies and add them as appropriate. This is a sample only and is not a complete syllabus.
What Learners Should Know and Be Able to Do
Learners Who Have Mastered this Component/Topic Know and Understand:
- Definitions of ASD
- Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA)
- Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5) Criteria
- Prevalence of ASD
- Characteristics of ASD and how they impact performance and participation
- Early signs and symptoms of ASD
- Screening and evaluation of ASD
- Comorbid diagnoses
- Pseudoscientific practices used with young children with ASD
- Resources to support ASD
Learners Who Have Mastered this Component/Topic Are Able To:
- Demonstrate an understanding of characteristics, etiologies, and individual differences within and across the range of abilities, including developmental delays and disabilities, their potential impact on children’s early development and learning, and implications for assessment, curriculum, instruction, and intervention.
- In collaboration with families and other team members, use assessment data to determine eligibility, develop child and family-based outcomes/goals, plan for interventions and instruction, and monitor progress to determine the efficacy of programming.
- In partnership with families, identify systematic, responsive, and intentional evidence-based practices and use such practices with fidelity to support young children’s learning and development across all developmental and academic content domains.
- Engage in reciprocal partnerships with families and other professionals to facilitate responsive adult-child interactions, interventions, and instruction in support of child learning and development.
- Engage in ongoing planning and use flexible and embedded instructional and environmental arrangements and appropriate materials to support the use of interactions, interventions, and instruction addressing developmental and academic content domains, which are adapted to meet the needs of each and every child and their family.
|Component and Title||Key Content||Duration||Link|
|6.1, 6.2, 6.3 Autism Internet Modules (AIM)||Autism-focused modules are designed to provide high-quality professional development to support evaluation, treatment planning, and supporting individuals with ASD. Free registration is required to access the modules.||vary||View|
|6.1, 6.2, 6.3 Autism Focused Intervention Resources & Modules (AFIRM)||Modules that are designed to help educators and families learn the step-by-step process of planning for, using, and monitoring evidence-based practices with learners with ASD. Supplemental materials are available for download.||vary||View|
|1.4 Autism- what we know (and what we don’t know yet)||In this calm and factual talk, geneticist Wendy Chung shares what we know about autism spectrum disorder — for example, that autism has multiple, perhaps interlocking, causes.||16-min||View|
|1.4 IRIS Modules:
Autism Spectrum Disorders: An Overview for Educators
|This module provides information on the early signs of autism spectrum disorder (ASD), as well as an overview of the difference between a medical diagnosis and an educational determination of ASD.||2-hr||View|
|1.4 OSEP Fast Facts
|Explore data on the number of children eligible for special education services under ASD nationally and by state.||5-min||Part B
|1.4 Early Signs of ASD||Observe 3 very young children to identify early signs of ASD.||9-min||View|
|4.4 What does Autism look like at 18 Months?||Dr. Amy Wetherby talks about why early screening and diagnosis of ASD is critical.||17-min||View|
|4.4 Vaccines and the Autism Myth (Part 1 & 2)||Vaccines don’t cause Autism, however, plenty of misinformation is around that can confuse parents. Learn about how this myth got started and what the research says.||9-min (1)
|4.4 Is it Speech Delay or Autism?||Understand the distinction between Autism and Speech Delay a diagnosis that commonly occurs in early childhood.||12-min||View|
|1.4 Amazing Things Happen||An uplifting introduction to autism for young non-autistic audiences, aiming to raise awareness, understanding, and tolerance in future generations.||4-min||View|
|4.4 How to Recognize Autism Signs in Toddlers with the M-CHAT||Dr. Mary Barbera talks about the M-CHAT autism symptoms checklist, which is a tool used to help parents understand how to recognize autism signs in toddlers.||9-min||View|
|4.4 Is it Autism or ADHD?||Understand the distinction between Autism and ADHD, a diagnosis seen in many children with ASD.||5-min||View|
|4.4 Children with Anxiety and Autism||Dr. Mary Barbera discusses Children with Anxiety and Autism: Here's What Parents and Pros Can Do.||12-min||View|
|6.1, 6.2, 6.3 Selecting an EBP||Learn the 4 important steps to selecting evidence-based practices that match a child’s goals, needs or outcomes.||10-min||View|
|6.1, 6.2, 6.3 IRIS Modules:
High Leverage Practices
|Developed by the Council for Exceptional Children and the CEEDAR Center, high-leverage practices are 22 essential special education techniques that all EI/ECSEs should master for use across a variety of contexts.||2-hrs||View|
|6.1, 6.2, 6.3 Iris Modules: Differentiated Instruction||This module discusses the importance of differentiating three aspects of instruction: content, process (instructional methods), and product (assessment). It explores the student traits—readiness level, interest, and learning preferences—that influence learning (est. completion time: 3 hours).||3-hrs||View|
The projects or assignments below require learners to apply the practices/skills related to Understanding Autism in Young Children.
- ASD Characteristics in Young Children with ASD (Standard 1, Component 1.4)
Review the characteristics of ASD table below. Working within your interdisciplinary team, create a scenario that demonstrates each characteristic and describe the associated impact on the child’s ability to engage in daily life. Next, describe how the child’s home, school, and community environments magnify or reduce this impact.
- ASD Characteristics: Social Communication = 7
- ASD Characteristics: Repetitive, Restrictive Patterns of Behavior, Interest, or Activities = 7
- Environmental Impact = 6
Total Points: _______ /20 Points
ASD Characteristics Table – Used for Learning Activity 1
|Persistent deficits in social communication and social interaction across multiple contexts:||Presentation
Does this child display this characteristic?
If so, what does it look like in this child?
How do these characteristics impact this child’s ability to eat, dress, care for personnel needs, interact with others, play and make friends, and/or attend or learn at school?
|Deficits in social-emotional reciprocity for example, from abnormal social approach and failure of normal back-and-forth conversation; to reduced sharing of interests, emotions, or affect; to failure to initiate or respond to social interactions||Example: Sally rarely initiates conversations with peers, and when she does it is only to talk about her favorite tv show.||Example: Peers are hesitant to interact and include Sally, she seems lonely.|
|Deficits in nonverbal communicative behaviors used for social interaction, ranging, for example, from poorly integrated verbal and nonverbal communication; to abnormalities in eye contact and body language or deficits in understanding and use of gestures; to a total lack of facial expressions and nonverbal communication.|
|Deficits in developing, maintaining, and understanding relationships, ranging, for example, from difficulties adjusting behavior to suit various social contexts; to difficulties in sharing imaginative play or in making friends; to the absence of interest in peers.|
|Restricted, repetitive patterns of behavior, interests, or activities
Does this student display this characteristic?
If so, what does it look like in this child?
How do these characteristics impact this child’s ability to eat, dress, care for personnel needs, interact with others, play and make friends, and/or attend or learn at school?
|Stereotyped or repetitive motor movements, use of objects, or speech (e.g., simple motor stereotypes, lining up toys or flipping objects, echolalia, idiosyncratic phrases).|
|Insistence on sameness, inflexible adherence to routines, or ritualized patterns of verbal or nonverbal behavior e.g., extreme distress at small changes, difficulties with transitions, rigid thinking patterns, greeting rituals, need to take the same route or eat the same food every day).|
|Highly restricted, fixated interests that are abnormal in intensity or focus (e.g., strong attachment to or preoccupation with unusual objects, excessively circumscribed or perseverative interests).|
|Hyper- or hypo- reactivity to sensory input or unusual interest in sensory aspects of the environment (e.g., apparent indifference to pain/temperature, adverse response to specific sounds or textures, excessive smelling or touching of objects, visual fascination with lights or movement).|
List the environments where the above impacts are most apparent.
|Does the environment magnify or support this need?|
|The school (if applicable)||Example: Peers are hesitant to interact and include Sally, she seems lonely.||Example: Magnify, most kids play together during recess but because the recess is loud and chaotic Sally stays inside, limiting her opportunities to interact with peers.|
2. Assessment for Identification of ASD (Standard 4, Component 4.4)
Access the AIM Module: Assessment for Identification (Updated). Take the pre-assessment and note 3 questions you had from the pre-assessment or Module 2. Complete the AIM Module and report 3 new pieces of information you learned or bettered your understanding of ASD assessment and/or answers you found to your questions. Finally, take the post-assessment.
- Pre-assessment= 8
- Questions/New Understanding = 4
- Post-assessment = 8
Total Points: _______ / 20 Points
3. Case Study: Young Child with ASD (Standard 6, Component 6.1)
Prepare a case study for a child who meets the diagnostic criteria for ASD. The case study must include background, diagnosis, symptoms, treatment, family dynamics, current intervention or educational status.
Include the following:
- Background/general history of the individual = 5
- Developmental Characteristics (development, behaviors, medical or educational diagnosis, age of diagnosis) = 5
- Communication: How does the child communicate, what are their strengths and needs, what interventions and supports are in place to address these needs?= 5
- Social: What social interactions does the individual experience and what social skill supports or interventions are utilized and recommended = 5
- Sensory: What sensory processing differences are present? Explain & Describe strategies being used = 5
- Academic or Intervention History: Discuss current use of EPB and recommendations = 10
- Report if any pseudoscientific interventions are being used with this child, and if so, an alternative evidence-based intervention.
- Positive behavior strategies: What strategies are being used, what is recommended, and who is responsible = 10
- Family Collaboration: Discuss the level of involvement and communication system = 5
- Other factors related to inclusion = 10
- For pre-school or school-aged children: describe the child’s least restrictive environment, the rationale for the LRE, positive behavior, academic and/or adaptive supports that allow the student to participate in the LRE. Report if you agree with the IEP/IFSP team’s determination and what you would change.
- For infants and toddlers: describe social play opportunities (e.g., playdates, tumble, or baby gymnastics classes) with typically developing children that are available the child. Report what barriers you see to meaningful social-play opportunities Report if you would or would not recommend more opportunities for this child, and your rationale for this recommendation.
Total Points: _______/60 points
Several different types of resources are included in this section of the module to support the development of knowledge and practices for understanding autism in young children. These include: Websites, Learning Modules, a Glossary, and References.
Additional LTSAE Resources
The modules related to this topic can be used in their entirety or by selecting sections or content that support the objectives of an IHE course or PD content. The evidence-based practices for adult learners will vary based on the module selected.
|Coaching||A cyclical process designed to support practitioners, primary caregivers, or other adults to implement interactional or instructional practices with fidelity. Primary components include needs assessment, goal setting, action planning; observation; reflection, and feedback.||DEC RP Glossary:
National Center on Quality Teaching and Learning. (2014). Practice-Based Coaching: Collaborative Partnerships. Retrieved from https://eclkc.ohs.acf.hhs.gov/sites/default/files/video/attachments/collab-partnerships-pbc.pdf
|Culturally and linguistically responsive and affirming||Approaches that empower individuals intellectually, socially, emotionally, and politically by using cultural and historical referents to convey knowledge, impart skills, and change attitudes.
Such approaches involve consciously creating social interactions to help individuals meet the criteria of academic success, cultural competence, and critical consciousness and include creating individual-centered learning environments that affirm
cultural identities; foster positive learning outcomes; develop children’s abilities to connect across lines of difference; elevate historically marginalized voices; empower children as agents of social change; and contribute to individual child engagement, learning, growth, and achievement through the cultivation of critical thinking. These approaches challenge norms (e.g., expectations regarding language, behavior, social interactions) in order to be responsive to marginalized children and families and work towards greater equity.
|Project READY: Reimagining Equity and Access for Diverse Youth
DEC RP Glossary:
Barrera, I., Corso, R., & Macpherson, D. (2003). Skilled dialogue: Strategies for responding to cultural diversity in early childhood. Baltimore: Paul H. Brookes.
Ladson-Billings, G. (2014). Culturally relevant pedagogy 2.0: Aka the remix. Harvard Educational Review, 84(1), 74-84.
|Evidence-based practice||Used as a Noun - Practices that are based on the best available empirical research that documents the practice’s efficacy with young children and families; the wisdom and knowledge of the field; and the core guiding values, beliefs, and theoretical approaches of EI/ECSE.
Used as a Verb – The process for selecting and implementing practices that weigh research evidence; family and professional wisdom and values; and the individual characteristics, strengths, and needs of a child.
|Odom, S. L., & Wolery, M. (2003). A unified theory of practice in early intervention/early childhood special education: Evidence-based practices. The Journal of Special Education, 37(3), 164173.
Buysse, V., Wesley, P. W., Snyder, P., & Winton, P. (2006). Evidence-based practice: What does it really mean for the early childhood field? Young Exceptional Children, 9(4), 2-11.
|Family||A child’s consistent (i.e., primary) caregiver(s) who have responsibility for the child’s well-being and development and who are partners in the child’s education and intervention. This may include a variety of individuals, including, but not limited to, the child’s biological, adoptive, or foster parent(s), legal guardians, siblings, grandparents, other relatives, and others within the child’s primary support network.||Mapp, K., & Kuttner, P. J. (2013). Partners in education: A dual capacity-building framework for family-school partnerships. Austin, TX: Southwest Educational Development Lab.
Turnbull, A. P., Turnbull, R., Erwin, E. J., Soodak, L. C., & Shogren, K. A. (2015). Families, professionals, and exceptionality: Positive outcomes through partnerships and trust. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson.
|Inclusive environments||Settings that facilitate inclusion. For infants and toddlers, natural environments represent a broad array of contexts and activities that are typically available to children without disabilities and their families. For children 3 through 8 years, inclusive environments may include a variety of organizational contexts (e.g., public school, private community-based centers) and ECSE service delivery models (e.g., co-teaching/team teaching, itinerant/consultant).||Division for Early Childhood/ National Association for the Education of Young Children. (2009). Early childhood inclusion: A joint position statement of the Division for Early Childhood (DEC) and the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC). Retrieved from https://www.decdocs.org/position-statement-inclusion Love, H. R., & Horn, E. (2019). Definition, Context, Quality: Current Issues in Research Examining High-Quality Inclusive Education. Topics in Early Childhood Special Education.
US Department of Health and Human Services & US Department of Education (2015). Policy statement on inclusion of children with disabilities in early childhood programs. Retrieved from https://www2.ed.gov/policy/speced/guid/earlylearning/joint-statement-full-text.pdf
|Instruction||A set of practices that are evidence-based, intentional, systematic, and support development and learning for all young children across developmental and content domains. Instruction includes the intentional structuring of children’s environments and learning experiences as well as methods used to teach a curriculum. Instruction is used across natural environments and inclusive settings in collaboration with families and other professionals.||Wolery, M. (2012). Voices from the field. Young Exceptional Children, 15(4), 41-44.
Boat, M., Dinnebeil, L., & Bae, Y. (2010). Individualizing instruction in preschool classrooms. Dimensions of Early Childhood, 38 (1), 4-10.
|Intervention||A set of strategies that are evidence-based, individualized, and support specific individualized developmental and learning objectives across natural environments and inclusive settings in collaboration with families and other professionals.||Wolery, M. (2004). Using assessment information to plan intervention programs. In M. McLean, M., Wolery, & D. B. Bailey, Jr. (Eds.), Assessing infants and preschoolers with special needs (pp. 517-544). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson.|
|Home and community settings (e.g., childcare programs, libraries, parks) in which children spend time participating in activities and routines regardless of their ability or needs, and are typically available to children without disabilities.||DEC/NAEYC. (2009). Early childhood inclusion: A joint position statement of the Division for Early Childhood (DEC) and the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC). Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina, FPG Child Development Institute.|
|Strengths-based||Approaches that concentrate on the inherent strengths of children and their families. It is a philosophy and a way of viewing children and their families as resourceful, resilient, and self-determined.||Green, B. L., McAllister, C. L., & Tarte, J. M. (2004). The strengths-based practices inventory: A tool for measuring strengths-based service delivery in early childhood and family support programs. Families in Society, 85(3), 326-334.|
Supporting literature and resources may be assigned as readings for pre-service and in-service learners and most align with the introduction of evidence-based practices for adult learners.
Al-Beltagi, M. (2021). Autism medical comorbidities. World Journal of Clinical Pediatrics, 10(3), 15.
American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders: DSM-5. American Psychiatric Association
Bauminger-Zviely, N. (2014). School-age children with ASD. In F. R. Volkmar, R. Paul, S. J. Rogers, & K.
Bruder, M. B., Catalino, T., Chiarello, L., Mitchell, M., Deppe, J., Gundler, D., Kemp, P., LeMoine, S., Long, T., Muhlenhaupt, M., Prelock, P., Schefkind, S., Stayton, V., Ziegler, D. (2019). Finding a common lens: Competencies across professional disciplines providing early childhood intervention. Infants & Young Children, 32(4), 280-293. doi: 10.1097/IYC.0000000000000153
Cidav, Z., Munson, J., Estes, A., Dawson, G., Rogers, S., & Mandell, D. (2017). Cost offset associated with Early Start Denver Model for children with Autism. Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, 56(9), 777–783. https://doi.org/doi:10.1016/j.jaac.2017.06.007
Division for Early Childhood (2020). Initial practice-based professional preparation standards for early interventionists/early childhood special educators (EI/ECSE) (Initial birth through age 8). Retrieved: https://d4ab05f7-6074-4ec9-998a-232c5d918236.filesusr.com/ugd/95f212_6e8952cda15f48b3935a7729dddcb50d.pdf
Division for Early Childhood (2014). DEC recommended practices in early intervention/early childhood special education 2014. Retrieved from http://www.dec-sped.org/recommendedpractices Early Childhood Personnel Center at the University of Connecticut Center for Excellence in Developmental Disabilities. (2020). Crosswalk of the initial practice-based professional preparation standards for early interventionists/early childhood special educators (2020) with the DEC recommended practices (2014).
Early Childhood Technical Assistance Center (ECTA). (n.d.). IDEA. ECTA.
Estrin, G. L., Milner, V., Spain, D., Happé, F., & Colvert, E. (2020). Barriers to autism spectrum disorder diagnosis for young women and girls: A systematic review. Review-Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 1-17.
Hyman, S.L., Levy, S.E., Myers, S.M., & Council on Children with Disabilities, Section on Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics (2020). Identification, evaluation, and management of children with an autism spectrum disorder. Pediatrics, 145(1):e20193447 https://doi.org/10.1542/peds.2019-3447.
National Centers on Birth Defects and Developmental Disabilities (2020). Identifying Autism Among Children: An Easy Read Summary. Available at: https://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/autism/addm-community-report/an-easy-read-summary.html
Travers, J. C. (2017). Evaluating claims to avoid pseudoscientific and unproven practices in special education. Intervention in School and Clinic, 52(4), 195–203.
Volkmar, F., Paul, R., Rogers, S., & Pelphrey, A. (Eds.), Handbook of autism and pervasive developmental disorders: Vol. 1. Diagnosis, development, and brain mechanisms (4th ed., pp. 148-175). John Wiley & Sons. http://dx.doi.org/10.1002/9781118911389
Wright, J. (2017). The real reasons autism rates are up in the US. Scientific American.
Select a Category:
|*New* Tip sheet: Enhancing Family-Provider Partnerships During COVID-19||Enhancing Family-Provider Partnerships|
|Tips for Providers: Providing & Coordinating EI Remotely||Tips for Providers: What to say to Families|
|Tips for Providers: Providing & Coordinating EI Remotely (What will it look like?)||Tips for Providers: What will a Remote Visit Look Like?|
|Tips for Families: Receiving Remote EI Services||Tips for Families Flyer .pdf What is Remote EI
Consejos para Familias .pdf What is Remote EI? (Spanish)
|Tips for Families: How to prepare for a Remote EI Visit||Tips for Families: .pdf Preparing for the Visit
TConsejos para Familias: .pdf Preparing for the Visit (Spanish)
|ECPC Course Enhancement Modules||E-Learning Lessons, Practice Guides & Resources
|CONNECT Modules||CONNECT Modules and Courses|
|Virginia Early Intervention Professional Development Center||Framework for reflective questioning / The Coaching Quick Reference Guide - .pdf|
|Virginia Early Intervention Professional Development Center||Tools of Trade|
|OCALI (Ohio Center for Autism and Low Incidence Disabilities) (note: you must login but it is free)||Suite of Resources for Early Childhood Professionals|
|Public Consulting Group||Use of telehealth in early intervention (IDEA Part C)|
|Protecting Student Privacy
U.S. Department of Education
|Student Privacy 101|
|Edelman, L. (2020). Planning for the Use of Video Conferencing for Early Intervention Home Visits during the COVID-19 Pandemic||Planning for the Use of Video Conferencing for Early Intervention Home Visits during the COVID-19 Pandemic|
|CEC Hosted Webinar with Resources||Teaching Special Education Online During COVID-19|
|National Center for Hearing Assessment & Management Utah State University||Welcome to the Tele-Intervention Learning Courses|
|Lisa Dieker & Rebecca Hines UCF - Podcasts for Part B/619 Coordinators||Series of Podcasts: teaching online, inclusion, etc.|
|National Center for Pyramid Model Innovations - May Newsletter||Pyramid in the Time of COVID-19|