Public schools respond to rise in autismGoldsboro News Argus, NC
10/05/07 By Phyllis Moore
There has been a dramatic increase in the number of children diagnosed with autism over the last decade and with it, the need to provide specialized teachers, Wayne County Public Schools officials say.
The once-rare disorder is becoming more prevalent across the country.
Some experts believe heightened awareness is prompting parents to have their children tested. Others attribute the rise to the fact that the definition of the autism spectrum has expanded.
Autism encompasses a wide range of behaviors and learning abilities -- from nonverbal and non-communicative students to children who are very talkative and adapt comfortably to a regular classroom.
Since schools are required to provide an equal education to all students, and fewer parents are opting to place their children in private or specialized schools, public schools are having to keep pace with the burgeoning need.
"It's plain and simple -- every child is entitled to a free and appropriate education," said Dr. Craig McFadden, assistant superintendent for accountability and student services for Wayne County Public Schools. "Whatever needs a child comes with, we're charged with meeting those needs, and not just for autism."
Currently, the district serves 2,872 students categorized as "exceptional children," which range from developmentally delayed and emotionally handicapped to hearing impaired and severely/profoundly mentally handicapped. Of those, 158 students are classified as autistic.
That number has quadrupled over the last decade. In 1998, out of the 2,553 exceptional children, 43 were deemed autistic. That number jumped to 83 in 2003, to 127 in 2003 and has gradually risen since.