In March, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released updated statistics on the incidence of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) in the U.S. They are staggering. Now the fastest growing developmental disability in the United States, one in 88 children is on the autism spectrum by age 8, and boys are five times more likely to have ASD.
The skyrocketing rate of ASD – a 78 percent increase over the past decade – cannot be wholly attributed to better and earlier diagnosis. While scientists work to find the causes of and treatments for ASD, there are issues this growing population needs assistance with today.
Over the past year, I have met with parents, students, teachers and school administrators on the increase of ASD in Northern Virginia. Many of these children are placed in special classes with trained special education instructors, but a number of children with high functioning autism (HFA) and Asperger’s Syndrome can be enrolled in mainstream classrooms.
Through our conversations, one impact became clear: the rapid growth in ASD has not given many teachers the opportunity to receive training in communicating with children on the spectrum.
There is a wealth of research on evidence-based methods to improve learning for students on the spectrum, but few venues to put the studies into practice. While scientists work to find the causes of and treatments for ASD, children on the spectrum deserve the best possible education. And that involves giving general education teachers the tools they need to help the growing number of students with high-function autism in their classrooms.
Every child, special needs or otherwise, faces obstacles to their education. And for the growing number of students with ASD, we must help them overcome the barriers that inhibit their ability to succeed in mainstream classrooms.
To fill this need, last week I introduced H.R. 5195, the “Autism Understanding and Training In School Methodologies for Educators Act of 2012,” or the “AUTISM Educators Act,” to establish a five-year pilot program to train teachers who work with children with autism spectrum disorders.
As a father, I know there is nothing more powerful than the love of a parent for their child and the “AUTISM Educators Act” is proof of that. H.R 5195 is the product of a grassroots effort by parents, instructors, school officials and caring communities. It has already received endorsements from a wide range of organizations including Autism Speaks, the Arlington County School Board and Arlington Special Education Parent Teacher Association.
Society has a responsibility to provide the best possible education for our children and the “AUTISM Educators Act” brings us one step closer to that goal. I hope H.R. 5195 gains support from my colleagues.
Rep. James Moran (D) is Virginia’s 8th Congressional District Representative in the U.S. House of Representatives.