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Autism on My Mind

I just started covering special education issues for Education Week a few days ago, and in that short time, some big news stories about autism have crossed my desk.

For starters, California Watch reported that the number of special education students identified as having autism in that state has more than tripled since 2002. According to the story, "more than 680,000 students - 11 percent of all California public school students—are enrolled in special education. The number of students diagnosed with autism climbed from 17,508 in 2002 to 59,690 in 2010, the Lucile Packard Foundation for Children's Health found."

The report doesn't explain the increase in autism diagnoses, but the foundation is asking for input on the trends, which match patterns nationwide.

In Minnesota, the increase in the identification of students of Somali descent as having autism has triggered a study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Institutes of Health along with the advocacy group Autism Speaks.

Disability Scoop reports that a 2009 Minnesota Department of Health report found that children of Somali descent were participating in special education programs for autism at higher rates than children from other groups. The goal of the new study is to take a closer look at autism prevalence in this population.

While schools and medical professionals are identifying autism more frequently, it's less certain that people with the diagnosis are using available support as they grow older. According to a report in the February issue of the Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine, the use of medical, mental health and case management services for young adults with an autism spectrum disorder appears to decline after high school. (I learned of this report thanks to an alert from Newswise.)

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