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How are States Addressing Autism? With Money, Training, and More

States are requiring new types of training for educators working with children who have autism, providing fresh sources of funding for private school vouchers for these students, and undertaking new studies to try to address the needs of children with autism, a recent review by the Education Commission of the States shows.

The review is not meant to be a comprehensive list of everything states are doing, but even then, it's a fairly long one. The ECS looked at the issue in part because of how prevalent autism has been shown to be. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate one in 110 children have autism spectrum disorder. Some studies have shown it could be far more common.

Arkansas, Kansas, Mississippi, and Rhode Island now have task forces to study how their respective states address autism—and recommend ways to improve the education of these children.

Illinois, Nevada, New Jersey, New York, and Oklahoma, the review found, now require training about autism for some teachers. But the training isn't always limited to special education teachers or new teachers: Oklahoma requires school districts to train all preschool-through-3rd-grade teachers and support staff, once every three years.

Ohio has created two kinds of private school vouchers parents can use to pay tuition for their children with autism, including the Autism Scholarship Program. The Buckeye State also has another voucher program parents of children with special needs (not just autism) can use to pay to send their children to another school district or another public program.

The ECS report doesn't mention something else I've seen many states work on in the last few years, requiring health-insurance companies to cover applied behavior analysis. The treatment doesn't just benefit students at school, of course, but that's one place it has been shown to be effective at helping children with autism work on skills including reading.

The National Council of State Legislatures earlier this year looked at insurance coverage for autism by state. The group found that 33 states and the District of Columbia have laws related to autism and insurance coverage, and at least 26 specifically require insurers to provide coverage for the treatment of autism.

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