Children with autism or one of the related autistic spectrum disorders ("ASD") are eligible for special education under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act ("IDEA"), which provides, in part, that disabled students must be educated with non-disabled peers as often as possible, a practice referred to as mainstreaming or inclusion. The federal circuit courts apply different tests to evaluate compliance with this mainstreaming requirement, but as argued in this Note, the circuit tests are effectively equivalent with respect to children diagnosed with ASDs. One significant issue in applying each of these tests is that tensions exist between the mainstreaming requirement of the IDEA and the clinical features of children with ASD diagnosis. Children with ASD have deficits in communicative and social behaviors that tend to minimize the importance of mainstreaming for these children. Part I of this Note provides a brief background on autism and methods of diagnosis and treatment. Part II reviews the development of the IDEA and outlines the main judicial tests for determining compliance with the mainstreaming requirement. Part III argues that despite differences in phrasing, the circuit tests as applied in the context of autistic children involve substantially the same inquiries. Part III also discusses the tentions that exist between the needs of children with autism and the mainstreaming requirement of the IDEA. This Note concludes that Congress and the Department of Education should relax the mainstreaming requirement in the context of autistic spectrum disorders.

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