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Autism in Hawaii Nearly Doubles in 4 Years

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HONOLULU (AP) -- The number of autistic children in Hawaii's public school system has nearly doubled in the past four years, state education officials said.

There were 1,143 students diagnosed with autism spectrum disorders last month compared to 656 students August 2001, officials told the Board of Education on Monday.

Autism includes a range of neuropsychiatric disorders affecting a person's ability to interact socially and communicate, causing unusual and repetitive behavior.

Dr. Paul Ban, director of the Education Department's Special Education Services Branch, said although autism is on the rise, the percentage of students with learning disabilities and other special-education needs has held steady at around 12 percent.

Hawaii's increase follows a national trend, but the state's numbers are "on the high side," said Marilyn Jakeway, the department's education specialist for autism.

The increase may strain schools, which already are facing a teacher shortage, especially in special-education teachers.

Ban said Hawaii has been a little behind in trying to make up a "5 to 7 percent" state shortfall of special-education teachers.

The Individuals with Disabilities in Education Act of 2004 requires that all special-education teachers be "highly qualified" under a range of criteria. The law went into effect July 1 and the Department of Education has a year to meet the teacher requirements.

Although autism is on the rise, the percentage of students with learning disabilities and other special-education needs has held steady at around 12 percent of the 180,000-student population, Ban said.

The state in 2001 began the transition in care for autistic children from the Department of Health to the Department of Education. Some parents have been critical of the care during the takeover.

Maung Kyi, who has a 14-year-old autistic son, said a lack of continuity in providers has hampered his son's progress.

"We get a lot of promises from the DOE about this and that, but all we want is continuity. That's the most important thing to an autistic child," he said.

Ban said the Department of Education's takeover is in transition and said that there is high turnover in personnel, which he blames on "burnout" in those dealing with autistic children.

Much of the care is handled by private contractors, but the Department of Education plans to move to a system of more direct care, he said.



That is a helluva a jump in numbers! Poor kids...

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