School districts across the U.S. struggle with the combination of two harsh realities: an increasing intensity of budget cuts for 2010-11, and complying with the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) which guarantees “free appropriate” education to all disabled students including the growing number of students with an Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). In addition, parents are pressuring schools to either comply with the IDEA or face legal action.
Public school administrators and special education directors looking for innovative ways to save costs, while still providing a quality evidence-based education for students with autism, are utilizing low-cost but high-tech services that offer curriculum planning, staff training and data tracking and reporting. A company offering such a technology that is seeing rapid adoption in public school districts is Rethink Autism.
“Although we are in our most dismal budget time in education, I can’t imagine us not spending the dollars necessary to continue with the Rethink Autism program,” says Ms. Laura McGill, Program Specialist at the School District of Indian River County, Florida.
Rethink Autism’s unique web-based program provides teachers with a comprehensive evidence-based curriculum through 1200+ video-based teaching steps, parent and staff training modules, an assessment tool, and progress tracking features. The curriculum, endorsed by leaders in the field of autism treatment and research, spans the entire autism spectrum and covers a broad range of skills, including academics, language, social, motor, daily living, and behavior managements.
“There may be no greater challenge facing public schools today than the staggering increase in children diagnosed with autism,” writes Fran Smith(1), a contributing editor at Edutopia.org, a website published by The George Lucas Educational Foundation.
A recent study(2) by the American Association of School Administrators (AASA), based on a survey of 453 school administrators conducted in March 2010, showed that school budget cuts will be noticeably more significant for 2010-11 than recent years, with the depletion of stimulus funds and continued budget strains at the state and local levels.
An estimated 637,000 children ages 3-17 in the U.S. (or 1 in 91) had a current ASD diagnosis in 2007 according to a widely accepted study(3) published in the October 5, 2010 issue of Pediatrics. That represents a 67% increase from a previous estimate from the Autism and Developmental Disabilities Monitoring (ADDM) Network, which reported autism rates of 66 per 10,000 children (or 1 in 150) in 2002.
Shrinking budgets and serving a growing number of students with an ASD are not the only issues that U.S. public schools are facing. However, the priority and urgency of the matter is compounded by the significant financial and legal risk of not addressing the issue.
“Parents press for evidence-based educational strategies and school administrators realize that it may be cheaper to beef up autism programs than continue to fight lawsuits,” writes Smith. “In fact, almost every student at almost every leading private school for autism attends at public expense.”
(1) “Educators Deal with the Growing Problem of Autism,” by Fran Smith, Edutopia (March 2008).
(2) “A Cliff Hanger: How America’s Public Schools Continue to Feel the Impact of the Economic Downturn,” published by the American Association of School Administrators (AASA) in March 2010.
(3) “The Prevalence of Parent-Reported Diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Disorder Among Children in the United States, 2007,” published in the Oct. 5 issue of Pediatrics.