U.S. families and schools have a problem, one that has been hidden for a long time and is only now becoming plain. You probably know that diagnoses of autism spectrum disorder (ASD) have increased. What you may not know, however, is the scope of the current problem:
- As indicated on the website for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the ratio for ASD in 2008 was 1 child out of every 88. This number was based specifically on a group of 63,967 children who were eight years old when the study was performed. The results of the study represent a 23 percent increase in ASD diagnoses since 2006, and a 78 percent increase since 2002.
- In 2013, the CDC used a slightly larger group and a broader range of ages: 65,556 children between the ages of 6 and 17. The latest results, which are at least a little bit controversial, indicate that 1 child in 50 is now being diagnosed with ASD. (The possible problem with the most recent statistics is the fact that many parents who were asked to take the survey declined to participate, and those who did take the survey may have done so because their own children had already been diagnosed with ASD.)
ASD affects every group — ethnic, racial, and socioeconomic — and it is almost five times more prevalent with boys (1 in 54) than with girls (1 in 252). Even so, there are two pieces of good news hidden in these statistics:
- Experts are getting better at diagnosing ASD, so the increase in numbers might only reflect the fact that it is easier to identify ASD. Children with ASD may have always been there, in other words, but they haven’t always gotten the help they needed since no one recognized the scope of the problem.
- In general, a later diagnosis usually reflects a milder disability. That makes sense: if someone has mild ASD, it may not be as easy to detect, but it also is less of a developmental hindrance.
Every school in the U.S. that has more than 50 students has a good chance of having autistic students who are enrolled there.
As a teacher or an administrator, what does this mean for you? The most obvious thing to consider is that when a child misbehaves, you can’t just assume the behavior is age-related or gender-related. It is possible that there’s more going on, and that the “more” is ASD.
ASD is something with a broad diagnosis that covers many different problems, so there is no one-size-fits-all solution. At the same time, however, there are ways to create a better environment for students. Structure, additional attention, and smaller class sizes are often key elements to success when dealing with ASD students. For those with a more serious problem, early intervention is especially important. Students with ASD can learn to do better if they receive appropriate direction, and the earlier they learn, the better they do later. You may also want to encourage parental involvement. A team effort is more likely to succeed than one that is more one-sided.
Autism is a national problem, but it is also a local problem. By being aware of the effect it can have on your school, and doing your best to provide for the needs of all the students who are under your care, you will be able to do your job as a teacher or administrator more effectively.
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