A decade ago, fewer than 500 students in Sacramento County schools were placed in special education due to autism. By 2011, that number had risen to 2,275 -- about one of every 105 pupils, according to state data released this week.
Children with autism-spectrum disorders often have trouble socializing and communicating. They frequently engage in repetitive behavior. Nationwide increases in autism diagnoses have been attributed to increased awareness and changing definitions of the disorder. Whether autism is actually more prevalent -- as opposed to just more frequently diagnosed -- is a matter of controversy.
Autism is most common in white males. Among large districts in Sacramento County, the highest rates of special education children with autism are in Elk Grove Unified -- one autistic child per 85 students -- and in Folsom-Cordova Unified -- one autistic child per 74 students.
There are a couple of obvious caveats. Special education placements do not correspond exactly to prevalence. And generalizations about race and ethnicity are debatable, in part because differences in diagnostic patterns.