The next surprise came after Tommy started public school in Arlington County. Arriaga realized what a growing number of parents, activists and school administrators have learned: The population of autistic children is fast outstripping the number of teachers trained to handle it.
“You’re sort of catapulted into this world where you feel like you need to learn as much as you can, because you will be your child’s advocate,” Arriaga said. “And you may get a good teacher, but you just don’t know.”
So the politically savvy Arriaga, a former White House and congressional aide, joined other Northern Virginia parents in approaching Rep. James P. Moran Jr. (D-Va.). Their lobbying efforts bore fruit Friday, when Moran introduced legislation that would begin addressing that shortfall.
The AUTISM Educators Act would create a five-year grant program to train general-education classroom teachers on the best ways to identify and interact with students with autism spectrum disorders. While children with extreme forms of autism often require separate special-education classes, many with milder cases are mixed into the general population.
The grants would be targeted at school systems with high autism rates — 10 percent or more of the district’s special-education population — and would require the systems to partner with a university or nonprofit group to develop the training program.