Although the number of autistic students has grown dramatically in Contra Costa County, school districts don't receive adequate state and federal funding to pay for their mandated education, district officials say.
In Mt. Diablo district alone, the total annual cost of the special education programs is $37.7 million more than the district receives in state and federal funding, including about $4.8 million that is spent transporting students.
"(The students) typically have a myriad services, which include speech pathology, occupational therapy, behavioral services, counseling and social skills groups," said Mildred Browne, assistant superintendent for special education in the Mt. Diablo school district.
The number of students ages 0-22 with autism has nearly doubled in the past seven years, from 269 in 2005 to 540 today. This growth is mirrored at county and state levels.
In Contra Costa County, the number of autistic students grew from 926 in 2005 to 1,666 in 2010. California's numbers ballooned from 34,668 to 65,908 during that time.In another story, Harrington writes:
Before 6-year-old Soren Considine began attending the autism preschool program at Valle Verde Elementary two years ago, he refused to color, write or sit still.
But within a week, the previously quiet 4-year-old began talking to his mother in the car on the way to school.
"The tears streamed down my face," said his mother, Eva Marie Considine. "We had started to converse about a single topic without random interruptions of repeated phrases that I didn't quite understand at the time. Soon, he started writing his ABCs and drawing and playing games with his sister more. He was ready for the next step -- kindergarten."
Now finishing up his kindergarten year, Soren is "mainstreamed" with other children in a general education classroom, where he recently worked alongside classmates cutting, coloring and gluing pictures onto a strip of paper to show the progression of "The Three Little Pigs" story.
Nearby, his mother was meeting with Soren's former preschool teacher Ellen Terminello and Soren's new case manager Calla VanBuskirk. They will assist in Soren's transition and full inclusion into first grade in the school's autism magnet program.
"All my students are at or above grade level," Terminello said proudly. "They're very verbal. Their disability is social skills and pragmatic language. These children are actually a gift to a classroom. They have a lot of general knowledge.