An eye-opening piece from Rescue Post yesterday on the rate of autism. This is a repost from the Rescue Post item.
October 18, 2007
Why the Department of Education Can’t Count
By Kent Heckenlively, Esq.
When journalists Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein were pursuing the Watergate scandal which eventually brought down President Nixon they were advised to “follow the money.” Or as my friend the Stanford economist says, “The truth is usually revealed when you find where people spend their money.”
I was considering these ideas when I came across some data from the U. S. Department of Education about the number of autistic children in public schools. The question of whether there’s actually an epidemic of autism is a controversial topic for many medical and educational professionals.
One of the more persistent critics of using data from the U. S. Department of Education has been Dr. Morton Ann Gernsbacher, a professor at the University of Madison-Wisconsin and President of the American Psychological Society. In an interview with Dr. Laurie Barclay and published in 2005 Dr. Gernsbacher laid out three reasons why the numbers from the Department of Education are not to be trusted.
First, the data is a count of only the children served, not all the children who meet the diagnostic criteria. Second, the criteria under which children will receive services may vary from state to state and across time. Third, the child count data for autism only began to be collected after the 1991-1992 school year.
I thought of my own initiation into the autism controversy when my daughter was three-years-old and in addition to having her seizure disorder and not developing normally was diagnosed with autism. At the time the therapy of choice was Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) and it came with a hefty price tag, roughly two thousand a week. Adding to that were the other professions of speech, physical, and occupational therapy playing their role, and her price-tag for our school district was about a hundred and fifty thousand a year.
When we moved to a new school district and we tried a different therapeutic approach we were able to significantly cut the cost, but were still asking the school district to shell out a good seventy-five thousand a year.
Like you and me, the school districts are not interested in paying out that kind of money. I find it difficult to believe school districts could be railroaded into spending the sums of money required by our children if there wasn’t an overwhelming need.
George Orwell once wrote, “Sometimes the first duty of intelligent men is the restatement of the obvious.” Before we decide to dismiss the Department of Education numbers, let’s see what they actually are, starting with the three largest states, the three smallest states, then the country as a whole from the time the records began to be collected, in comparison to the present day.
In California in 1992-1993 there were 1,605 autistic children between the ages of 6-21 as counted by the U. S. Department of Education. In 2006-2007 there were 31,077.
In New York in 1992-1993 there were 1,648 autistic children between the ages of 6-21 as counted by the U. S. Department of Education. In 2006-2007 there were 13,951.
In Texas in 1992-1993 there were 1,444 autistic children between the ages of 6-21 as counted by the U. S. Department of Education. In 2006-2007 there were 16,801.
In Wyoming, the smallest state by population, in 1992-1993 there were 15 autistic children between the ages of 6-21 as counted by the U. S. Department of Education. In 2006-2007 there were 279.
In Alaska in 1992-1993 there were 8 autistic children between the ages of 6-21 as counted by the U. S. Department of Education. In 2006-2007 there were 454.
In Vermont in 1992-1993 there were 6 autistic children between the ages of 6-21 as counted by the U. S. Department of Education. In 2006-2007 there were 328.
In the United States in 1992-1993 there were 12,222 autistic children between the ages of 6-21 as counted by the U. S. Department of Education. (That’s about the current size of the small town in California in which I grew up.) In 2006-2007 there were 224,415. (Curiously, that’s a little more than the population of Madison, Wisconsin where Dr. Gernsbacher teaches as a professor at the University.)
When Vaccine Autoimmune Project/ founder Ray Gallup looked at these numbers with Dr. Edward Yazbak, they concluded that the most current autism prevalence among our children is not 1 in 150, but closer to 1 in 67.
Let’s look at this in terms of dollars and cents. I know at seventy-five thousand dollars a year, my daughter is a big-ticket item. Let’s cut that to an average of twenty-five thousand per autistic child per year and play around with the numbers, shall we?
In 1992-1992 if we used those numbers we would come up with a cost to our education system of a little over three hundred million, adjusted for today’s dollars. In 2006-2007 that number would be more than five and a half billion dollars.
The truth is found when you discover where people spend their money. If our public schools are wasting more than five billion dollars a year when they don’t have to, why are we letting them educate our children?
I’ll bet the Department of Education believes their numbers. They listen to teachers and principals on the front lines, not psychologists and professors in ivory towers.Kent Heckenlively has worked as an attorney, television producer, and is now a beloved science teacher.