Autism and Schools
Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD), including autism and Asperger syndrome and the less common Rett syndrome and childhood disintegrative disorder, are complex pervasive developmental disabilities that result in potentially significant impairment in social interaction and communication, restricted or repetitive movement or the exhibition of unusual behaviors or interests. The causes of autism still are undetermined, and assigning responsibility for the rapid rise in the incidence of ASD is not entirely possible. Autism seems to have a strong genetic component, although the mechanism for inheritance—predisposition, mutation, or multigene interaction, among others—remains unexplained.
Determining the cause of the rise in the number of autism cases is of significance for policymakers because it has implications for future policy directions. If the increase principally is the result of better and more aggressive diagnoses, then the recent and sharp rise in the autistic population should be expected to level off at a new higher, but stable, rate. If, however, the rise represents an increase in the actual number of new cases of autism, the rise in identification simply is measuring a growing epidemic of ASD and projections for the size of the population in the years ahead are much more uncertain. This scenario raises the specter of long-term increases in the number of children identified consuming ever-increasing amounts of resources.
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