A few years ago, we published an issue brief, “Autism Diagnoses on the Rise,” that explored the steep climb in autism diagnoses across California. So what does the trend look like these days? About the same, it turns out. Newly released data from the California Department of Education show that the growth in special education students diagnosed with autism continues unabated, from roughly 17,500 California public school students in 2002 to nearly 60,000 in 2010.
As you dig deeper, however, some other trends emerge. First, while students with autism comprise a greater share of all special education students in California compared to roughly a decade ago (from about 3% of all special education students in ‘02 to about 9% in ‘10), numbers are on the rise for another diagnosis, too — “other health impairment.” The California Department of Education defines this as “having limited strength, vitality or alertness, due to chronic or acute health problems, such as a heart condition, tuberculosis, rheumatic fever, nephritis, asthma, sickle cell anemia, hemophilia, epilepsy, lead poisoning, leukemia, or diabetes.” Meanwhile, the percent of special education students diagnosed with a learning disability has dropped considerably, from 52% of all special education students in 2002 to 42% in 2010.