Are Schools Prepared for an Increase in Autism-Related Special Needs?

The reported rate of autism spectrum disorders (ASD) has significantly increased and is now expected to affect 1% of children ages 3 to 17, or approximately 1 in every 100 children, according to two recent major studies.  Both the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and a study published in the journal Pediatrics indicate that the reported rate has increased from previously reported levels of 1 in 150 persons.  Even more alarming, boys are four (4) times more likely to have ASD than girls of the same age, which means that the likelihood of having a boy with ASD is around 1 in 60, a staggering number.  The second government study conducted by the Health Resources and Services Administration used data from the 2007 National Survey of Children’s Health.

Some researchers urge caution when interpreting the new numbers, suggesting that the reported increase is due to increasing awareness of the symptoms, as opposed to an actual increase in diagnoses.  Additionally, according to the children’s parents, many of the reported cases are mild forms of the disorder. Controversial author David Kirby questions this theory at the Huffington Post.  He asks if the actual rate of autism in children has not increased, how is it possible that as adults we have not noticed that 1 in every 60 adult males we come across has some form of ASD?  Kirby adds anecdotal evidence from long-term teachers and special education administrators who cite their long years of experience in refuting the notion that reported increases in autism related disorders are merely a function of greater awareness.

As many parents and professionals know, autism and related disorders such as Asperger’s and pervasive development disorder can be a frustratingly difficult diagnosis to make as it can only be made based on behavior instead of by more objective means such as a blood testing.  These behaviors include difficulties with social interaction and communication and are often accompanied by repetitive behavior.

However, whether the increase is due to better reporting or an actual upsurge, better informed parents and doctors mean more parents demanding educational and other services.  As this population ages, there is no doubt that both the government and private sectors must be prepared for an escalation in demand for supportive housing, employment, social and financial support.

According to CNN and the Associated Press, Dr. Tom Insel, director of the National Institute of Health, stated that the federal government is increasing resources to address autism and related disorders, adding millions of dollars for autism research, screening and treatment and adds that President Barack Obama has made autism research a priority.

It is more important than ever to plan for the future of our disabled children.  We should not depend solely on government support to financially support our disabled children, whether diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder or any other type of disability.  Just as our federal and state governments need to prepare financially for the influx of disabled children into the school and health care systems, parents need to make estate planning a priority to ensure the financial well-being of the disabled population as soon as possible.

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