A quarterly publication of the Autism Research Institute

The Autism Research Review International is quarterly publication of the Autism Research Institute

Winter, 2023 | Number 1, Volume 37

Mainstream, special ed classes lead to similar gains for preschoolers

Many preschoolers with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) are placed in mainstream classrooms, while many others are placed in special education classes. According to a new study from Israel, children in the two different settings display comparable changes in core autistic symptoms over the course of one to two years. 

Michal Ilan and colleagues analyzed data on 121 preschoolers with ASD placed in either mainstream or special education classrooms, comparing changes in core ASD symptoms as measured by the Autism Diagnostic Observation Schedule, Version 2 (ADOS-2). 

The researchers accounted for baseline cognitive scores, age of diagnosis, and parent-reported intensity of intervention. They report, “Longitudinal changes in ADOS-2 scores did not differ significantly across settings over a one- to two-year period.” In contrast, they note, changes in ADOS severity scores were strongly associated with the age of diagnosis, “demonstrating that children diagnosed earlier improved more regardless of educational settings.” 

The researchers say, “Special and [mainstream] settings differ dramatically in their structure and cost. Yet there are remarkably small differences in the outcome of preschool children with ASD across settings in terms of their core ASD symptoms and gross spoken language abilities.” They conclude, “This highlights the need to identify specific criteria for establishing meaningful placement recommendations.” The researchers caution, however, that their findings have limitations. For example, they say, they focused on changes in core ASD symptoms and did not examine other measures of outcome.


“Children with autism exhibit similar longitudinal changes in core symptoms when placed in special or mainstream education settings,” Michal Ilan, Michal Faroy, Ditza Zachor, Liora Manelis, Danel Waissengreen, Analya Michaelovski, Inbar Avni, Idan Menashe, Judah Koller, Ilan Dinstein, and Gal Meiri, Autism, January 11, 2023 (free online). Address: Michal Ilan, Psychology Department, Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, BenGurion 1, Beer Sheva 8410501, Israel, mici83@ gmail.com