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Will increase in ASD diagnoses increase demand for special educators?

4 min read

Voice of the Educator

A colleague recently pointed to a March 2014 press release from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reporting a 30% increase in the number of children diagnosed with autism spectrum disorders within a two-year period. The data is sparking discussions among researchers, educators and parents on autism awareness, diagnosis efforts and the potential need for additional special-education teachers. And here at the University of St. Thomas, this data is an opportunity to further look at how we are preparing our teachers and community members to be effective teachers and supports to infants, children and youth with ASD.

According to the report, 1 in 68 children have been diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder (ASD), a noticeable increase from two years ago when the CDC found 1 in 88 children had ASD.

Researchers looked at 2010 data from education and health reports of more than 5,300 children, age 8, living in 11 states including Alabama, Arizona, Georgia, Missouri and New Jersey. The CDC has released similar reports every two years since 2000 to capture changing trends in the prevalence of autism and its diagnosis. Its 2000 report found 1 in 150 children had autism.

The report does not draw conclusions about why more children are being diagnosed with autism though CDC officials say contributing factors could be the way in which individual communities identify, screen and provide services to children.

While the 11 states included in the report do not represent the entire United States, the report concluded that the data was likely not over-estimating the prevalence of ASD.

As more children are diagnosed with autism, it is anticipated that additional special-education teachers will be needed to meet demand for services. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), job growth for special-education teachers is expected to increase by about 6% from 2012 to 2022.

BLS statistics also indicate that special-education teachers who work with children with multiple disorders, severe disorders or ASD, will have more job opportunities. Special-education teachers might also be in higher demand in states that have more children with autism or other disorders.

Autism rates in the CDC report varied by state with Alabama having the lowest autism rate of 1 in 175 children. New Jersey had the highest rate of 1 in 45 children. Factors reviewed by researchers included the date of the child’s earliest diagnosis and the child’s intellectual ability, or IQ.

While early diagnosis is crucial in developing therapies and treatments to address a child’s development, the CDC found that many of the children included in the report were not diagnosed until after age 4. Experts say diagnosis is possible as early as age 2.

“Community leaders, health professionals, educators and childcare providers should use these data to ensure children with ASD are identified as early as possible and connected to the services they need,” said Coleen Boyle in a CDC press release. Boyle is director of CDC’s National Center on Birth Defects and Developmental Disabilities.

The largest increase in children with ASD was in children of average or above-average IQ, according to the CDC report. Nearly half of the children studied had IQs above 85 compared to about one-third of children a decade ago.

Boys are nearly five times as likely to have autism as girls, and more whites are diagnosed with autism than blacks or Hispanics. However, the report also found increases in the number of black and Hispanic children, and also in girls older than age 8, who have autism.

The CDC report also cites lack of trained professionals available to serve autistic children.

The federal health agency recommends establishing a national strategy of standardized measures to document the severity and symptoms of ASD and to improve therapies and treatments.

Jo Montie is program director of the University of St. Thomas’ online program in autism spectrum disorders. Montie has been a professor at St. Thomas since 2003 and has worked in the field of education and special education for over 25 years.