Early Intervention and Special Education

Alaska Early Intervention/Infant Learning Program (ages 0-3)

The early years of a child’s life are very important. From ages birth to 3, rapid learning and brain development takes place. In this period, a young child's brain is still forming, meaning it is more "plastic" or changeable than at older ages. Because of this plasticity, treatments often have a better chance of being effective in the longer term. Research has shown that early diagnosis and interventions for autism can improve a child’s overall development and can have long-term positive effects. Children who receive autism-appropriate early interventions and support at key developmental stages are more likely to gain essential social skills.

Early intervention services can help parents learn how to help their child improve throughout their developmental stages with assistance from early intervention therapists and specialists. Early intervention is family centered and services are developed based on the needs of the child. Alaska’s Early Intervention/Infant Learning Program (EI/ILP) provides these specialized services for children who have developmental delays and/or disabilities throughout the state.

Alaska Special Education (ages 3-22)

Students with autism may have significant challenges with learning and the school environment, no matter where they fall on the autism spectrum. In addition to the well-known traits such as poor communication skills and lack of eye contact, there are a number of challenges a child with autism may face in school. There can be difficulty in making friends or interacting socially with peers or even bullying. Challenges with understanding language and potential processing delays mean they are often visual learners. Kids on the spectrum often have rigid behaviors and routines, such as having to line objects up in a certain way, or difficulty in deviating from a routine. Many can become overwhelmed by sensory stimuli. Everyday activities such as recess, gym, school assemblies, or a trip to the cafeteria can potentially cause overstimulation and a meltdown. Teens with autism often encounter depression or behavioral problems as they go through adolescence.

Autism doesn't mean a child isn't smart. In some children, simple classroom modifications or accommodations may be all the child with an ASD needs for success. Some may need a higher level of support, such as special education services guaranteed by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). The IDEA is a law that makes available a free appropriate public education to eligible children with disabilities. To be eligible for special education and related services in Alaska, a child with autism must exhibit:

  • a developmental disability significantly affecting verbal and non-verbal communication and social interaction that adversely affects educational performance; this type of developmental disability is generally evident before the child reaches three years of age; or 
  • other characteristics often associated with autism such as engagement in repetitive activities and stereotyped movements, resistance to environmental change or change in daily routines, or unusual responses to sensory experiences that adversely affect educational performance; 

There are a wide variety of special education supports and services in Alaska. Schools and districts in the state either have, or can access, specialized autism programs, teachers and resources to meet the unique educational needs of students on the autism spectrum.