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My child is in special ed – do I still need a formal autism diagnosis?

Autism diagnosis test: Why a formal diagnosis is important

Updated: August 29, 2023 · 4 Minute Read

Leigh Monichon, Special Education Advocate

Reviewed by:

Leigh Monichon, Special Education Advocate


  • Families often need both school and medical evaluations to access services to support their child. This is because they are used for different things.
  • School evaluations are only used to gain access to services provided by the school. Medical evaluations are used by your health insurance company to access medical services outside of the school system, such as therapies provided at clinics or in your home.

An autism diagnosis test may seem unnecessary if your child's school already provides a wide range of supports for your child. However, it’s important to know that your school will only provide services needed for your child to learn in the classroom. When it comes to services and benefits outside of school, your child may benefit from a formal diagnosis. Here are some reasons to consider getting your child formally diagnosed:


1. Your child might need support that falls outside of the school’s scope.

For example, your child may receive occupational therapy to help them learn how to write, but they may still need more occupational therapy outside of school to help with things at home and in everyday life.


2. The school may limit your child’s supports or services depending on what they think is best.

For example, your child’s school may give your child a one-to-one aide to help them stay safe and not run away (elope). But if the school feels your child doesn’t need the aide anymore, they may remove that service – even if you don’t feel your child is ready to be at school without it.


3. Each school will have its own rules and policies about what services they allow/provide and when.

For example, one child’s school may allow their ABA therapist to come work with them at school, while another may not.


4. Insurance companies may only cover certain services when your child has an official diagnosis.

If your child could benefit from services outside of school to help them with things at home and out in the real world, those services likely won’t be free. For example, speech and occupational therapies can be valuable for kids with developmental differences, but they aren’t cheap. Some insurance companies won’t cover services without a formal medical diagnosis.


5. A formal diagnosis can help you access benefits.

If you want to apply for SSI (disability), Medicaid, EBT (food stamps) or other benefits (like your state’s special education scholarship), your child will need a formal diagnosis.


6. The school can’t diagnose.

Educational and medical evaluations are two different things. If you want a more accurate picture of your child’s difficulties, strengths, and how to address them, a formal evaluation with a medical diagnosis can be helpful. A formal diagnosis can correct an incorrect label created by the school or a previous expert. 


7. It can carry with your child into adulthood.

A formal diagnosis can be used to request accommodations at work and school into the future. Some neurodivergent adults seek out a formal diagnosis after self-diagnosing because they want confirmation, reassurance, or to understand themselves better.


Final thoughts on seeking a formal diagnosis

It’s important to note that some folks in the autistic and neurodiverse community don’t think a formal diagnosis is necessary, and worry it may create an unneeded and harmful label/stigma. While we certainly all want a world where it doesn’t matter if you’re disabled or not – because everyone should be treated the same – that’s not the world we currently live in. Seeking a formal diagnosis is up to you and your child, but it can be helpful for accessing the services and benefits we’ve mentioned here.

Article References

  1. Adults. Accessed March 8, 2023.‌