School administrators need to adapt to rising numbers of autism cases, despite reports from the U.S. Autism and Asperger Association that show educators have been overwhelmed and unable to provide for all the affected students for years.
The findings in the 2011–2012 National Survey of Children’s Health, released in late March, show that one in 50 children are now diagnosed with autism. This is up from one in 86 in 2007. These increases were found in all age groups, most prevalent in boys ages 14-17. The report is evidence that more children are being diagnosed with this developmental disability at an older age.
“Whether or not it’s better diagnoses or more people having the condition, something is going on,” says Scott Badesch, president and CEO of the Autism Society. “There’s a significant increase in demand for help and services.” Students who are diagnosed and receive treatment at the earliest ages, from 18 months old to kindergarten, tend to perform better in school later, Badesch says. Therefore, districts should examine their pre-kindergarten programs, he adds, and ensure that IEP testing is thorough.
But there are some examples of helpful education for these students across the nation. Jordan Valley School in the Canyons School District in Sandy, Utah is a center-based school, designed for students with severe and profound disabilities. While many autistic cases range from mild to moderate, Jordan Valley also caters to children with severe autism.
The key to providing a rich education for children with autism is providing structure and routine. “The IEP goals work on increasing the skills they need in language, and it may involve a picture system,” says Principal Mark Donnelly.
This system essentially uses pictures, or icons on a computer, to show students what they will do throughout the day, so they know what to expect. When they get off the school bus and start the day, their schedules are depicted through a string of pictures, including a toilet, handwashing in a sink, reading, and math examples, to reveal a part of their daily routine.
And by using technology such as iPad applications, students can point to an icon of an angry or sad student to express their feelings at any given moment. “The iPad gives them a voice,” to communicate to others what they are thinking, he says. “It allows them an avenue that is two-dimensional rather than three-dimensional. 3D can be very overstimulating to them.”
AT&T is also working to help the cause by facilitating the needs of children with autism. The company is holding an Autism Speaks hackathon April 12 in San Francisco with the goal of developing apps that will help K12 students. AT&T used crowdsourcing to gather ideas, and will let developers turn the best ideas into realities.
One app, tentatively titled the “Good Things” app, focuses on the positive events throughout a student’s day, while another aims to reduce sensory overload. The “Good Things” app allows students to recall three positive events from their day, such as having a tasty lunch or making a friend at recess. The “Reduce Sensory Overload” app will provide calming, interactive scenes, like a virtual fish tank with the option to add fish, coral, and sand.