An estimated 16% of children with autism, around one in six, get expelled from preschool programs, according to new research out of the University of California, Riverside.  

The study, which focused on reports of expulsion from child-care facilities and preschools by parents of 203 autistic children, found that the average age of children removed from these programs was just 3 years old.  

“These little kids were asked to leave school because they demonstrated behaviors directly related to their autism,” UC Riverside School of Education professor and the study’s lead author, Jan Blacher, told UC Riverside News. “So, they were being expelled from preschool for the very problems that they needed school for.”  

The study also found that characteristics of autism, like challenges communicating and repetitive behaviors, are sometimes viewed as misconduct, which can make children with autism targets for expulsion.  

According to Blacher and her co-author, Abby Eisenhower, a professor in the department of psychology at the University of Massachusetts-Boston, children with autism who are expelled from these types of early developmental programs are more likely to experience problems with their kindergarten teachers. 

The researchers say one of the problems is teachers not understanding or recognizing that these children are suffering from a disability and not just simply misbehaving.  

“Many of the expelled children were not identified as having a special need,” Blacher to the university outlet. “That suggests to us that it never occurred to the teachers to refer them for assessment.”  

Since publishing their paper, entitled “Preschool and Child-Care Expulsion: Is it Elevated for Autistic Children?” in the journal Exceptional Children, Blacher and Eisenhower launched a study “of a new autism-affirming intervention to help teachers better understand and help children with autism in general education classes” UC Riverside News reports.