The number of students in New Jersey public schools diagnosed with autism has almost doubled in the past five years, to more than 13,000 in 2010. More of these children are now being educated in their hometown schools.
But as their number has grown, so has the debate about how and where to best educate children with autism.
A review of special education placement data by The Press of Atlantic City shows the percentage of autistic students ages 6 to 21 sent to specialized schools dropped from 40 percent in 2005 to 28 percent in 2010.
While advocates and experts support keeping the children in their hometown districts, they say many schools are still not equipped to offer the specialized programs autistic children need to learn to interact with others.
“A high number of students are still going to out-of-district placements,” said Diana Autin, co-director of the Statewide Parent Advocacy Network, or SPAN. “And even if they are kept in district, they are often placed in programs that are still very segregated.”
About one in four autistic students spends most of the school day in a regular class, Department of Education data show, an improvement from 2005 when the ratio was less than one in five. But almost half are spending at least half of their day in a separate special education class.
A 2010 report in the International Journal of Special Education indicates that autistic students placed in regular classrooms performed better academically than those placed in special programs. But research on the issue is new and limited, and advocates warn there is no one-size-fits-all placement.
From: Jennifer A. Kurth and Ann M. Mastergeorge, " Academic And Cognitive Profiles Of Students With Autism: Implications For Classroom Practice And Placement," International Journal of Special Education 25 (Number 2, 2010):
In all academic areas, students with autism who had received all of their math and language arts instruction in general education outperformed those students who had received their instruction in special education settings in skill areas that are traditionally difficult for students with autism (abstract skills). These findings suggest that inclusion is academically beneficial to students with autism in this sample. The small sample size and geographically limited nature of the present study preclude broad generalizations; more research is thus warranted with larger sample sizes in more diverse areas.