The DSM revision and the CDC report have inspired a number of local news stories about the increasing prevalance of autism. Some examples:
In the Mid-Valley, Tim McGee, manager of mental-health services at the Easter Seals Children’s Therapy Center in West Salem, said he didn’t have hard numbers, but it’s easy to say the numbers of autism diagnoses have gone up. The center provides services such as speech and language therapy and occupational therapy.
“It used to be there was just a couple of us mental-health therapists who saw children on the spectrum. Now we have 18 therapists part-time and full-time who will work with children on the spectrum.”
Amanda Smith, special-education coordinator for students services in Salem-Keizer School District, said the district has seen a “dramatic” increase in the number of students locally with autism.
She said in 2006, 18 percent of the district’s special-education students had autism. By 2010, 51 percent of special-education students were identified as having autism. [emphasis added] The district has 6,000 students enrolled under the category of special education.
"We are feeling it,” Smith said. “We’re quite proud of how we serve these students. We offer a variety of programs and services, partly out of the growth of autism in our student population.”
The Oregon Department of Education reported Wednesday that autism remains one of the fastest-growing disabilities in Oregon schools. Their numbers have increased from 317 students with the diagnosis in 1990-91 to 2,650 students in 2000-01. This year, the number is 8,694. [emphasis added]
Amy Benham, a special education teacher who heads the autism program at the elementary school, said Wednesday she was aware of the latest estimate.
"One in 88," she said. "It's scary stuff."
Over the past six years, Benham has seen the population of autistic students rise from three to its current enrollment of 10. She said the school's program is prepared to meet the growing challenge through a mix of emerging technologies, hard work and collaboration with parents.
The Grand Forks School District, too, has seen a rise in the number of children with autism, with 76 out of 6,823 enrolled students falling into that category, according to Tori Johnson, the district’s director of special education. That’s about one in 90.
“That number keeps going up,” she said.
They may go up some more this year. Altru Health System is setting up a series of free screenings for children 12 and younger. The goal is to identify children with this disorder as soon as possible, to maximize the effectiveness of treatment, according to Diane Gunderson, manager of Altru’s Rehab Outpatient Therapy Services.
A key issue with early detection is the resistance of parents fearful of what the truth may mean for their children.
“The embarrassing thing is when parents don’t want to realize their kid is different,” said Bob Concannon, whose son Bobby, now a Central High School student, was diagnosed with Asperger syndrome in kindergarten. Asperger is a disorder that falls within the autism spectrum.
The district deals with parents’ resistance by classifying some students as “non-categorical delay,” which includes children 10 and younger who struggle in school and may have learning and emotional disabilities. Some may have autism but the condition has not been diagnosed.
“It’s a way for us to serve them without identifying them specifically in a certain category,” Johnson said. [emphasis added]