In the past decade, autism spectrum disorders (ASD) have received enormous media attention because of the growing prevalence of ASD. In 2011, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevalence estimated that 1 in 88 children has ASD as compared with an estimated prevalence of 1 in 2,000 children 40 years ago. This growing prevalence has bred enormous controversy involving a host of issues in the research, advocacy, and legal arenas. No issue has received more attention in the field than the belief that vaccinations are the cause of the growth in ASD. In all instances, the millions of dollars in research and the more than 5,000 lawsuits have failed to find such a link. This has led the research, advocacy, and fund-raising efforts to appear to be focused on the “cause or cure” of ASD related more to the fight against polio or childhood cancers than at the treatment of a developmental disability. Even with all of this controversy, however, one issue seems to bridge the gap among researchers, parents, advocates, health care and educational professionals, and policy makers—that evidence has demonstrated that early intervention (EI; Part C of the Individuals with Disabilities in Education Act) for infants and toddlers with ASD works and provides the best pathway to address or ameliorate ASD. Although there is a consensus, EI, too, is rife with debate reflected in the growing case law. This article explores the legal issues raised for infants and toddlers with ASD and their families struggling to receive appropriate EI services. It also discusses a variety of issues that raise legal problems for those children, including eligibility for EI services such as the potential impact of the proposed changes to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual for Mental Disorders; the nature, frequency, and duration of EI services; the payment of those services; and the dilemmas faced by transition from EI to preschool special education.
Albert Einstein College of Medicine, Bronx, New York, and City University of New York (CUNY) Graduate Center, New York.
The author thanks Robert Marion, Meryl Shulman, and Norman H. Stein for their excellent contributions.
The author declares no conflict of interest.
Correspondence: Sheryl Dicker, JD, Albert Einstein College of Medicine, CERC, 1410 Pelham Pkwy. S., Bronx, NY 10461 (firstname.lastname@example.org).