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Saturday, October 9, 2010

Autism in West Virginia

The Charleston Daily Mail reports:

The number of West Virginia students diagnosed as autistic has more than tripled in nine years, and the superintendent of the county with the highest number told state school board members his county is paying as much as $200,000 per child in severe cases.

Manny Arvon, superintendent of Berkeley County Schools, spoke with board members about his county's unusually high number of autistic students in a meeting Wednesday.

He said when he first took the superintendent job there in 1997, the county had 11 autistic students. This year the county has about 161.

Arvon said his county has 30 teachers at 29 locations working with autistic students, but 15 of those teachers aren't autism-certified. He said 23 of the county's 42 autism aides have specialized training for the job.

His school system spends an average of more than $19,000 per autistic student every year to provide them with the services they need. Countywide, that amounts to more than $3 million, and those costs are likely to increase as Berkeley is averaging 15 more autistic students every year.

Arvon said some of the county's most severely autistic students are sent to a day program across the state line in Virginia. That costs the school system $100,000 plus transportation per child. If the child lives at the program, the school system pays $200,000.

Berkeley County Schools spends just under $1,800 per student in regular classrooms, Arvon said.

Pat Homberg, executive director of the education department's Office of Special Programs, told the board that 1,230 West Virginia students were currently diagnosed with autism. In the 2001-2002 school year, just 389 students were diagnosed.

She said some people have suggested the increase is due to better detection efforts.

"But that really doesn't account for this huge number of students who have been diagnosed," she said.