By Anne Dachel
This article is the second of a two part series on the Massachusetts special education system. Problems are enormous with no solutions in sight. There are charges of abuse and neglect in a program that seems to be failing to meet the needs of the disabled in state schools.
This particular story focuses on the numbers, the jaw-dropping increases in special needs students, especially those with autism. Something is clearly wrong. The burden on schools is overwhelming, yet nowhere in this coverage is there a call for answers.
Aug 17, 2016, WBUR Boston: 'There Is No Yelp': Why Parents Struggle With The State's Special Ed System
"We have a growing concern about students with disabilities across the commonwealth being severely mistreated," said Stan Eichner, the center's head litigator. "It’s our sense that the mistreatment of these youngsters with disabilities is not limited to public or private schools, it’s not limited by geography, and we think it’s a widespread problem.”...
According to state data, the number of special ed students with severe disabilities is increasing. Since 2003, enrollment of students with autism, for example, is up more than 300 percent. The number of students with severe neurological impairments is up almost 150 percent in the same time frame....
Mossaides says she believes this is the first time the state has taken such a deep dive into reviewing oversight of these schools.
"I think the population of children that are now in these schools represent more acute cases than ever before and so it is a good time to look at the protocols and say, ‘Are these sufficient to protect the children who are currently in these schools?' "
What do school officials who’ve been involved in education for more than twenty say about these increases? Do they try and convince themselves that nothing is wrong? Do they pretend that students like this were locked in institutions or kept at home back in the 90s? Do they worry that the soaring rate will continue to increase? When will autism become a crisis for Massachusetts? 30,000 autistic students? 50,000?
And lastly, if the state is struggling to serve the needs of so many disabled students, how will Massachusetts handle the thousands of young adults with autism who will be leaving high school in the coming years?
Look at the comments at the end of the article.
One comment is a look into the future when so many disabled will have to be supported by the taxpayers.
At the risk of being roundly lambasted, is it time to have a discussion about the limits of educating severely disabled children using the public education system? Given that public funding, at some point, becomes a fundamental constraint that affects both the taxpayer as well as Special Ed and normal children in the public school system at what point do we concede that it is both impractical and unfair to support the few to the detriment of many?
And another is from an educator who isn’t buying the “better diagnosing—no real increase” claim.
There are so many things I can say about this, being an elementary school counselor in an urban public school district. I've been doing this work for 25 years, and have seen a dramatic increase in the number and severity of children's mental health issues and diagnoses such as autism. It's a real thing, not just overdiagnosing or an increase in awareness. And despite what Law thinks, it's generally not due to "poor parenting."
Anne Dachel is Media Editor for Age of Autism.