In The Politics of Autism, I write about special education and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.
We reviewed federal special education data to determine school-identified prevalence of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) and other disability categories by U.S. state. We also examined whether state-level policies, demographic factors, and rates of other eligibility categories are predictive of these state ASD rates. Results indicate that overall, 1 of 81 school-aged children are served under an ASD special education eligibility. State-level demographic factors, such as socioeconomic status and political leanings were highly predictive of rates of ASD. States with higher rates of ASD had lower rates of intellectual and learning disabilities, but higher rates of Other Health Impairment (OHI).
From the article:
The results from this study provide further support for the idea that ASD prevalence rates by state are associated with SES factors, including the proportion of special education students being served under an ASD eligibility (Palmer et al. 2005; Sullivan 2013; Thomas et al. 2011). Despite evidence that SES factors and race/ethnicity are intertwined in their relation to ASD identification (Fountain et al. 2011), we failed to improve our model by including race as a predictor. Our findings also indicate that political leanings on the state level might be partially implicated in these discrepancies. In fact, the model that included political leanings explained about 6% more of the variance in ASD rates than did the model including only income and education as predictors. After removing the outlier of Iowa, the model of just state-level demographic factors of politics, household income, and average adult education accounted for 40% of the proportion ASD by state. This same model failed to predict the overall proportion of students in special education by state, indicating that ASD specifically, and not simply special education services, is tied to these demographic factors. Interestingly, states with centrist politics had higher ASD rates than Democratic or Republican states after controlling for income and education. While the reason for this specific group difference warrants further investigation, the overall finding implicates the role of politics in ASD prevalence at the state level. This may be due to the impact of either policies or simply collective values within states around different special education eligibility categories.