AIMS. Our aim is to describe the change that is taking place in the field of education in developmental disabilities from models centred on the clinical symptoms and on the limitations in the adaptive skills to models that focus on valuable personal results in terms of quality of life. DEVELOPMENT. In order to understand these changes, we outline some of the key points that have given rise to a particular cultural construction of disability and we also discuss how the situation is changing towards models aimed at achieving important personal results. In autism, as in the other developmental disorders, special emphasis has traditionally been placed on an education focusing on symptoms and on skills, and, although things are now beginning to head in that direction, little attention has been given to education based on the person and his or her quality of life. These changes imply new roles for the professionals attending these people. These roles involve combining technique with empathy and ethics, and they are more firmly based on the active role of individuals with autism, together with their rights, interests and opinions.