Saturday, September 29, 2007

Autism again

I just received CSBA's weekly email update with a link to a draft report of the California Legislative Blue Ribbon Commission on Autism.

Here are some startling facts, just FYI.

Throughout the report, they refer to ASD, which stands for Autism Spectrum Disorders. Classified in the DSM IV, they include "traditional" autism (Kanner's), Asperger's Syndrome (AS), and the ever helpful "Pervasive Developmental Disorder, Not Otherwise Specified" or PDD-NOS. No one quite knows what causes ASD, but some combination of genetic and environmental causes is assumed. No one knows what is causing the increases statewide and nationwide.

This report calls the rates of increase of ASD diagnoses a public health crisis. "ASD are more common than childhood cancer, juvenile diabetes, and pediatric AIDS combined." (p. 7) (I can't quite tell, but I think that's a statewide quote.)

From 2001 to 2007, the California K-12 public school enrollment increase was 3.9 percent. (p. 9)

From 2001 to 2007 "the number of children with ASD in California’s special education system increased 183 percent, representing an average increase of more than 4,000 children each year." (p. 9) The report says there are no signs that this increase is lessening.

86 % of children with ASD are educated in the Public Schools in 05-06 (p. 44), and it costs three to four times as much money to educate an ASD child as it does an general ed child, legal fees caused by litigation excluded. (p. 45) (Summary: 8K to 11K in 04-05 dollars for a GenEd child, 30K to educate a child in house and 40K to educate a child sent to a non-public school at District expense.)

In 2002, ASD children made up 50% "of the high cost special education school-age population." (p. 45)

When a case goes to litigation regarding provision of legally adequate services, the costs are huge:
... the California Association of Suburban School Districts reported that in 2003-04 the Las Virgenes Unified School District spent almost $900,000 in legal fees, mostly for a single ASD-related case that went to litigation. In 2004-05 the Long Beach Unified School District spent over $205,000 in legal fees for 13 cases of which nine cases involved students with ASD. The Ojai Unified School District in Ventura County, a small district with 40 students with ASD, spent $400,000 in 2004-05 on ASD-related legal costs. (p. 52)

And finally:

As a whole, across California’s public education system there is a significant and serious lack of specialized training on ASD. There is a critical need to expand in-service and preservice training on ASD and to ensure that such training is comprehensive and addresses the behavioral and social skills needs of children with ASD in addition to their cognitive development. Many families told the Commission that teachers and other school staff are especially ill-equipped to address children’s behavioral and social skills problems. The need for teachers and other personnel qualified to educate children with ASD will only grow as more of these children enter and progress through the educational system. (p. 46)

The commission calls upon the Governor to declare the entire ASD issue as a Public Health Crisis and devote more money and energies to coordinating a state-wide plan to address the gaps and inadequacies in the system. In the meantime, the report demonstrates that it is a true and documented statewide pattern that more and more ASD disabled children are coming into the system, and that they are very expensive to educate. The report also shows that teachers in the public school system are incredibly ill-prepared to deal with ASD children.

Well, damn. I could have told them THAT!

At least there's some data there that demonstrates that it's not just anecdotal.

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