Monday, April 27, 2009

Autism numbers on the upswing in Kansas schools

From the Topeka Capital Journal in Kansas:

The number of children with autism enrolling in Topeka Unified School District 501 and other Kansas schools is increasing each year, school officials say.

And that means more money must be funneled into providing services for them.

On Dec. 1, 2008, USD 501 officials reported to the Kansas State Department of Education that 84 students with autism were enrolled in the district’s schools. In December 2001, that number was 56.

Statewide, the number of public school students with autism went from 846 in 2001 to 2,223 in 2008.

Karla Denny, director of communications for the state education department, said the state spent $6,137 above the base state aid per pupil for each student in special education during the 2007-08 school year.

“That may be more or less, depending on the services provided to the student,” Denny said.

The base state aid per pupil is $4,374, bringing the estimated total cost for each student in special education to $10,511.

Autism advocates and teachers say the mounting cost of educating children with autism — now and in the future — can be curbed with early intervention and therapies before the child enters kindergarten.

“The cost of treatment can be reduced by two-thirds with early diagnosis and intervention,” Marlene Graber, an autism consultant with Topeka public schools, said at a recent inservice program.

According to state education department records, the other school districts in Shawnee County also have seen increases in the number of students with autism from 2001 to 2008: Shawnee Heights USD 450, 6 to 13; Seaman USD 345, 6 to 28; Auburn-Washburn USD 437, 15 to 40; and Silver Lake USD 372, 1 to 6.

School districts near military bases are reporting marked increases in the number of children with autism. According to the Pentagon, the incidence of autism in military families is 1 in every 88 children, higher than the 1-to-150 ratio for nonmilitary families.

Ricardo Vieyra, director of the special education program for Geary County USD 475, said the district reported 47 children with autism on Dec. 1, 2007. A year later, the number had grown to 65.

The district includes Junction City, Fort Riley, Milford and Grandview Plaza.

Vieyra said 52 percent of the students in the school district come from military families.

“I don’t know if I can say that the chances (of autism) in the military are higher, but we have our share of military families who moved here and who have autism,” he said.

Vieyra said he compared the state’s largest school districts in regard to the number of students with autism served. He looked only at school districts that have their own special education programs, thus excluding districts assisted by special education cooperatives.

“Geary County had the third-largest percentage of students with autism,” he said.

The other top districts were Lawrence USD 497, which reported 108 children with autism on Dec. 1, 2008, and Manhattan-Ogden USD 383, which reported 90.

State education department records indicate Fort Leavenworth USD 207 has seen the number of students with autism jump from 3 to 23 since 2001, while Leavenworth USD 453, which also serves military children, has experienced a 3-to-21 increase.