The U.S. and California Departments of Education recently released special education data (child counts) for the 2008-2009 school year. A particular focus in the media has been a tripling of the number of students who wear a special education label of “autism” in California.
Needless to say, some probably see this as confirmation of an “autism epidemic”. For a particularly myopic and emotional (anger and fear) interpretation of this recent news story, one need go no further than “Autism Epidemic” central (AoA) and read the data-free opinion piece by Anne Dachel.
For the bigger picture in California, a look at the actual data might be in order.
For those who may not be able to see the graph of the IDEA data that most closely represents the K-12 age group as a percentage of the resident population, receiving special education services for the last ten years in California: Autism has steadily increased from .13% to .64%, Specific Learning Disabilities has steadily decreased from 5.64% to 4.41%, and totals for all disabilities has remained flat at about 9.2%.
If you believe there’s been an “autism epidemic”, and that special education data from California proves that the schools are overwhelmed, here are a two questions for you:
1. What has caused the decrease in Specific Learning Disabilities (a decrease that more than offsets the increase in autism)?
2. If the special education totals remain unchanged, why are the schools “overwhelmed”?