Every year, the Indiana Resource Center for Autism releases an article documenting the increasing prevalence of autism spectrum disorders in Indiana schools. Since no database currently exists in Indiana with the actual number of people on the autism spectrum, either statewide or by county, the only real figures come from the December 1 child count data collected by the Indiana Department of Education, Department of Special Education. These data are collected from all public school districts across Indiana. These data are compared against data from the Centers for Disease Control which shows that nationally the prevalence has gone from 1 in 150 to 1 in 54 in a matter of 16 years (Data & Statistics on Autism Spectrum Disorder | CDC).
Last year’s (December 2019) child count data showed that 17,048 were served under the eligibility category of Autism Spectrum Disorders for an increase of 333. This year, that number decreased by 164 to now include 16,884 students. The number of students enrolled in Indiana’s public and non-public schools during the 2020-2021 school year decreased to 1,112,670. Last year’s identification rate was 1 in 62. Using this year’s school enrollment data and the child count data from December 2020, this year’s identification rate is 1 in 66. The child count data does not include children who are not on special education service plans, are home schooled or are in non-public schools. All who have either an IEP or special education service plan are counted.
So, what accounts for the decrease? There are several reasons:
- COVID has impacted the number of students attending school, and especially those ages 3-5. Families have opted to either wait until the pandemic has passed and schools feel safe again, or they have opted to have their child attend alternative programs, such as ABA clinics/programs.
- The state added the general category of Developmental Delay. This eligibility category can be used for students up to the age of 8. It helps schools qualify children for services when they are not 100% sure that a child fits another more specific category, such as autism spectrum disorders. Remember that programming should be based on individual need and not eligibility category.
- And finally, diagnosing a child as being on the autism spectrum has been challenging this past year regardless of placement or practitioner (e.g., hospital staff, school staff, private psychologists, etc.). Many evaluations require in-person assessments which have been difficult during COVID.
Regardless of the challenges presented by COVID, there are still issues in diagnosing that we need to address in the future, including identifying girls on the autism spectrum who often present characteristics differently, and diagnosing those in our black and brown communities who are often diagnosed later than their white classmates.
Pratt, C. (2021). Prevalence of autism spectrum disorders in indiana.https://www.iidc.indiana.edu/irca/articles/prevalence-of-autism-spectrum-disorders-in-indiana.html.