More Autistic Students in Classrooms; Autism Parents Worried

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By Heather VacLav

“When your child is first diagnosed with autism, you're terrified,” said Karen Vinson, a mother of an autistic child and board member for the Autism Society of Alabama. “You’re [worried your] child is going to be picked on, your child is going to be singled out, and you're scared to death to let them go to school.”


78% more children are being diagnosed with autism in the United States than a decade ago. According to the Centers for Disease Control, 1 out of every 88 children has some form of autism spectrum disorder.


The Montgomery County School District says it has seen a similar increase; the school district is up to nearly 300 students with autism. With the rising rates, the Autism Society of Alabama says parents with autistic children in the River Region are worried their kids’ education could be at risk.


“The more children that you have in the system, the more my child is going to get lost, he might not get the specialized attention that he might require,” said Karen Vinson, a mother with an autistic child and board member for the Autism Society of Alabama.


Vinson and other parents’ concerns are two-fold. Not only will there be more students in the classroom with autism, but the coming school year will see 150 million dollars worth of funding cut out of Alabama’s Education Fund. Last week state legislators passed a bill to warrant the cuts, and programs like special education could be affected by the financial shortfall.


“With lack of funds, there's lack of teachers and lack of support staff that a lot of these children need,” Vinson said.


The Montgomery County School District agrees with many parents and is also concerned about how the budget cuts may affect the programs used to educate children with autism.


“What we've learned to do with our resources is to adapt,” Karen Ingram, a Montgomery County School psychometrist, said.


Ingram would not indicate whether or not the county’s schools would need new teachers based upon the increase of autistic students. She did however reference how the county is rolling with the potential punches of budget cuts. The State Department of Education offers free training to teachers on how to better educate children with autism.



“More people need to be trained, more people need to come educated and we just need to utilize our resources better that we have here in the system,” Ingram said.


Parents like Vinson are not convinced the county will be able to balance more autistic children with less funding, but are hopeful. “We’ve had a great experience in the Montgomery school system, we may be the exception, we may not be,” Vinson said.


In the coming weeks all of Alabama’s schools, including Montgomery County, will find out how their special education programs will be affected by the Education Fund’s budget cuts. However, Montgomery County Schools say it won’t stop the way they equally educate their special education students.


"Wherever there's a need, we're going to find a way to make it happen,” Ingram said.


Saturday, the Autism Society of Alabama will be hosting the annual 2012 Walk for Autism. See the link for more details and how to get involved: http://www.walkforautismal.com/



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