Trends in Special Education Eligibility Among Children With Autism Spectrum Disorder, 2002-2010

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autism spectrum disorder, special education, trends, surveillance, prevalence

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Objective: Although data on publicly available special education are informative and offer a glimpse of trends in autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and use of educational services, using these data for population-based public health monitoring has drawbacks. Our objective was to evaluate trends in special education eligibility among 8-year-old children with ASD identified in the Autism and Developmental Disabilities Monitoring Network.

Methods: We used data from 5 Autism and Developmental Disabilities Monitoring Network sites (Arizona, Colorado, Georgia, Maryland, and North Carolina) during 4 surveillance years (2002, 2006, 2008, and 2010) and compared trends in 12 categories of special education eligibility by sex and race/ethnicity. We used multivariable linear risk regressions to evaluate how the proportion of children with a given eligibility changed over time.

Results: Of 6010 children with ASD, more than 36% did not receive an autism eligibility in special education in each surveillance year. From surveillance year 2002 to surveillance year 2010, autism eligibility increased by 3.6 percentage points (P = .09), and intellectual disability eligibility decreased by 4.6 percentage points (P < .001). A greater proportion of boys than girls had an autism eligibility in 2002 (56.3% vs 48.8%). Compared with other racial/ethnic groups, Hispanic children had the largest increase in proportion with autism eligibility from 2002 to 2010 (15.4%, P = .005) and the largest decrease in proportion with intellectual disability (–14.3%, P = .004).

Conclusion: Although most children with ASD had autism eligibility, many received special education services under other categories, and racial/ethnic disparities persisted. To monitor trends in ASD prevalence, public health officials need access to comprehensive data collected systematically, not just special education eligibility.

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Citation / Publisher Attribution

Public Health Reports, v. 133, issue 1, p. 85-92