Federal education officials are reminding schools not to skimp on needed speech and language services for children with autism.

In a letter to states, officials from the U.S. Department of Education say they’ve heard that an increasing number of kids on the spectrum may not be receiving services from speech-language pathologists at school. Moreover, such professionals are frequently left out of the evaluation process and are often not present at meetings to determine what services a child should receive under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, the department said.

“Some IDEA programs may be including applied behavior analysis (ABA) therapists exclusively without including, or considering input from, speech-language pathologists and other professionals who provide different types of specific therapies that may be appropriate for children with ASD when identifying IDEA services for children with ASD,” wrote Melody Musgrove, director of the Education Department’s Office of Special Education Programs, in the guidance sent this month.

Advertisement - Continue Reading Below

Musgrove said her agency is worried that this issue is impacting students in special education programs serving infants and toddlers as well as K-12 schools.

Under IDEA, schools have an obligation to fully evaluate children with disabilities to assess their specific needs. For young kids, the law requires that the person who conducted the evaluation be included in the team determining what services a child will receive. Meanwhile, for school-age children, the individualized education program, or IEP, team must include a professional who can “interpret the instructional implications of evaluation results,” the Education Department guidance said.

“We recognize that ABA therapy is just one methodology used to address the needs of children with ASD and remind states and local programs to ensure that decisions regarding services are made based on the unique needs of each individual child with a disability,” Musgrove wrote.

The “Dear Colleague” letter came in response to inquiries from the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association and anecdotal evidence from a handful of states, Education Department officials said.

“We very much appreciate this guidance and believe that it will serve to ensure that children receive the appropriate treatment they deserve based on their individual needs,” said Judith Page, president of the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association.

Elaine Quesinberry, a spokeswoman for the Department of Education, said the letter is not yet posted on the agency’s website, but should be soon.