Date of Award

August 2023

Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


Educational Psychology

First Advisor

Karen C Stoiber

Committee Members

Kyongboon Kwon, Bonita Klein-Tasman, Margaret Bartlett


Autism, Developmental Delay, Eligibility, Evaluations, IEP, Support


The identification of autism spectrum disorders (ASD) occurs in educational and health settings. Many children with autism will only receive a classification of autism in the educational setting (Esler et al., 2022, Pettygrove et al., 2013, Wiggins et al., 2020). There is significant overlap between the early intervention offered to children with autism in health settings and what is provided through Individualized Education Programs (IEPs) (National Autism Center, 2009; Morset et al., 2010). However, there is an increasing trend of children with autism being classified with significant developmental delay (SDD) instead of autism initially in schools and the impact of this trend is underexplored (Rubenstein et al., 2018). This investigation compared initial IEPs for 112 children who were classified with ASD or SDD in a large public school district who all eventually were classified with autism. Many children (35%) who were later reclassified with autism were classified with SDD initially instead. Additionally, the classification of autism was significantly associated with race and with a previous diagnosis of ASD in health settings. Findings reveal similar levels of support offered in many autism symptom-specific areas, and similar amounts of specialized instruction and related services provided in IEPs between autism and SDD classifications. Some differences emerged, including IEPs for children who were classified with autism initially including more autism-specific IEP goals in the areas of social communication/interaction and nonverbal communication and were more likely to include supplementary aids and services related to restricted and/or repetitive behavior, interests, and activities, or sensory differences than those IEPS for children classified initially with SDD. Implications for eligibility determination decision makers and special education teams, limitations, and future directions are discussed.