A mother and son during an in-home session of applied behavioral analysis therapy.

Between 2014-15 and 2015-16 the number of California public school students diagnosed with autism went up by seven percent, according to the most recent data from the state’s Department of Education. The increase means that more than one in every sixty-five kindergartners in California has an autism diagnosis. We’ll talk about how families and schools are dealing with the growing numbers of autistic students.

Rate of Autism in California School-Age Kids Up 7 Percent 20 July,2016Michael Krasny

Matt Carey, runs LeftBrain/RightBrain; parent of an autistic child
Rachel Norton, commissioner, San Francisco Board of Education
Aubyn Stahmer, associate professor in psychiatry and behavioral science and director of community-based treatment research, Mind Institute at UC Davis


    According to government statistics autism incident have been rising at an alarming rate ,it seems most of these increase are due to environment cause like air pollution and insecticide ,studies continues to find other factors for the increase ,but after detail analysis ,scientist were certain that there is no connection between the rise of autism and childhood vaccination.


    Autism affect boys 5 times as much as girls ,it due genetic disorder , beside environmental factor other contributing factors are the advance age of both parent at the time of conception ,maternal illness during pregnancies ,low weight at birth among many others

    • Max Varázsló

      Autism is diagnosed in boys three to five times more than it is in girls. That doesn’t mean that a lower percentage of girls aren’t “affected.” The diagnostic criteria are muddled. Changes made to the DSM-V have only made the situation worse. As the coordinator of a support group for autistic adults, I can truly affirm that women and girls are more often sent mixed signals by their therapists than men. The condition — which we don’t consider a “disorder” — presents differently in women than men, and the current diagnostic criteria barely allow for the difference.

  • Mark SF

    Started a website to help people navigate through raising a child autism. Work in progress, but the school part is “finished”
    Currently working on Conservatorship so that people will know all their options and can fill the forms and navigate through conservatorship themselves.

    • Mark SF

      I should add that the website has buttons for translation into a number of different languages. The healthcare section is “finished”.

  • Another Mike

    Regarding the issue of teachers not being able to afford housing. So long as SFUSD starts teachers out at 1/3 a techie’s salary, this will be a problem. I suggest that SFUSD build or buy studio apartments for its teachers with less than five years experience, and rent them at an affordable rate.

  • marte48

    In my opinion, autism has been under-diagnosed and misdiagnosed for decades. In 1963, I observed that my 5 yr old cousin would not make eye contact, did not smile or laugh, grunted and growled rather than spoke, and was generally uncontrollable. He was eventually diagnosed as bipolar, and heavily medicated through school, where he excelled academically, but had to be disciplined constantly. His father, who was a surgeon, and the rest of the family, were terrified of him, and eventually required police assistance to protect the family. My cousin was gifted musically, played several musical instruments, but was never able to make a living, and often got into bar brawls and street fights. He eventually committed suicide at 40 years old by jumping off the GG bridge. It may be that some unruly children are being misdiagnosed as autistic. I have known other undisciplined children, but none like my cousin.

    • Kriste Bron

      Sorry for your loss. As my youngest has high anxiety and depression as part of his ASD, your cousins choice is my deepest fear. You are right that the awareness to diagnose impacts the surge in identified with Autism numbers. There are many diagnosis that apply to unruly children that lend to appropriate response, even medicinal as your cousin had. Not always is it Autism.

  • Mary

    Our son was diagnosed at 3 years old- we have been through the WCCUSD since the diagnosis. The district was fine when he was young but now as a 13 year old- the district has been very disappointing. We have spent thousands of dollars with therapies and counseling. We even hired professionals (lawyers and psychologists) to help get solid IEPs but the teachers DO NOT follow the IEPs! Our son is very bright and high functioning and very aware that he is different than other kids.

    Another issue are the parents at the schools. I heard over and over how my son was taking away teacher time from other kids. There was not a lot of empathy or understanding from the school community. It was heart breaking to have our family becoming isolated from our neighborhood school.

    We have since left the public school system. Very disappointed and sad about the situation.

    • Chris in HMB

      IEPs are essential. Tailoring the goals to the needs of the child for educational success is a first big step. Also making sure your IEP includes daily/weekly/monthly measurements on how children are doing with each goal helps. All measurement types, daily logs from teachers, how parents will have access to the measurements and logs will need to be explicitly stated in the IEP. In our IEP, we have it stated that after 30days of a new program, we, the parents, will reconvene with the teacher and host of others on the team to discuss it’s success and failures to tweek it as necessary. I’ve been to over 10 IEP related meetings just to get one IEP finished. One IEP meeting lasted over 4 hours. Schools are not going to offer to parents “all” they can and are required to do. Parents have to know what they can ask for that will meet the needs of their individual child and require the school to provide regular progress reports. Parents are also able to request a special or emergency IEP at any time. School districts have a certain amount of days to respond and also to provide the IEP. There are so many ins and outs that I couldn’t have ever known without an advocate that has already gone down this road. That’s why my earlier comment is focused on an experienced, passionate, “no-non-sense” advocate.

  • Connie

    I understand you are not willing to talk about causes on this program. But it is the root of this challenge. I wish you had the fortitude to do so. #VAXXED.

    • Chris in HMB

      Connie, I saw that Vaxxed was out in a limited release. Is there a place online to see the documentary?

  • Kriste Bron

    I’m have two HFA sons. Each had very different responses from staff to their disability. One is thriving, the other is in an NPS ( Non Public. SChool) and working through PTSD from a prone hold he was put in his last day of public school. There is a lot staff needs to learn in San Jose Unified! Wanted to add the case load in California is 55 students for Speech and Language Pathologists and 28 for Resource Specialists, more if they cover two school sites. These were set when the paper trail was more narrow. Either the case loads need to reduce, or the paper trail needs to funnel down.

  • Ellie

    I am a 5th grade regular ed teacher who happens to have my masters degree in Special Education. While teaching a 4/5 combination class, I had 5 students with IEPs. One was emotionally disturbed, two with autism, one with severe learning disabilities and one with speech services. In a class of 30 students, 25 of which were “typical” students, it was nearly impossible to meet the needs of any of the students, especially with two different cirriculums to teach and he introduction of common core.

    I’m a veteran teacher and know how to work with students with special needs, but absolutely no training could have prepared me to be able to successfully teach that class. The demands were so extreme, it ended up being, in my opinion, a wasted year for those students. For all of them. Not just the special needs students.

    This goes back to the school district and their lack of looking at students. What it came down to was the money. If we had had one more teacher, we could have had not combination class and all students could have had an opportunity to learn. The special needs students could have been separated more, allowing for more teacher assistance.

    The entire system needs to be revamped. Most importantly, teachers need to be the ones to revamp it, not beurocrats.

    • andresthegiant

      You people are saints. Thanks for your good work.

    • Mark SF

      A lot of time, it is the parents advocating for inclusion of their child in general education classes either out of a little denial about the severity of their childs disabilities and ability to participate in a general education class and a desperation for their child to be normal. Like you say this is crazy for the teacher in general education because they do not have enough support to meet all the diverse needs of all the students in their class. Everyone loses.

  • Chris in HMB

    100% recommend parents to get an advocate to attend all IEPs. Parents may not know their rights nor the questions to ask or the services available for their children. Children without a formal autism diagnoses are not open to the same services. School districts and regional centers (in my experience) will not provide the an autism diagnoses (explained to me because it opens up the child to expensive services). Mandy Tapia has two children on the autism spectrum, knows the school districts, the law and what it takes to provide children with the individual needs. Advocate (Part of an Organizational Membership) — COPAA Community : mtapia@tollnerlawoffices.com

    • Mark SF

      I am still working on the school part of raisingautism.net but here is the section on assesment which is not up yet.


      Initial assessment determines eligibility for special education and related services.
      This is often initiated by a teacher but can be requested by the parents. Make
      the request for an assessment in writing and include what suspected
      disabilities, behaviors, or educational challenges you want evaluated. Anything
      you feel that your child is lagging behind on. The assessment completion can
      take up to 75 days.

      You have the right to a second opinion if you disagree with a special education assessment
      performed by the school district. It is called an Independent Educational
      Evaluation (IEE). As the name indicates the evaluation must be performed
      independent of the school district and its employees. The school must pay for
      this second opinion. As with all request with schools or agencies put it in

      You can pay for your own evaluations which must be reviewed by the school district and IEP.
      If a significant portion of this evaluation is used in the IEP the school
      district must reimburse you so keep your receipts. They must reimburse you
      because of a Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE). Something you paid for
      that assist in the IEP is not free.

    • Linda McNulty

      I could not agree more. As an advocate I have many clients who are successful CEO’s, attorneys, police, etc. The problem is that the law is complex and how will you know your options….. if the district doesn’t tell you…. or if they misinform you. An example: a special education teacher told a parent that they needed to remove the students accommodations or he would not be able to graduate with a regular diploma and would have to accept a certificate of completion, (due to new common cores standards). These were simple accommodations like extra time on tests. Clearly, she was misinformed which does happen, however, most parents would not question the teacher unless they had some type of knowledge of specail education requirements.

    • Anne K. Ross

      I’m sorry this has been your experience, and I’ve heard similar stories from many parents. However, I have to say that school districts can identify autism under special education eligibility categories with or without a medical diagnosis; ditto for Regional Centers. As someone who works in a school district, I have never refused to provide an autism eligibility due to cost of services. School psychologists perform under a code of ethics, and most of us take that very seriously. The issue of whether a child requires special education services, however, is what districts and parents sometimes disagree on. Just because a student has a disability does not automatically mean they require special education in order to access the curriculum. Some may need a 504 plan, some may need general education accommodations, and some may need nothing in addition to the general education curriculum.

  • Tara Bevington

    Great discussion and variety of viewpoints on today’s topic. I apologize that this appears like a sales pitch, but I want to spread the knowledge that there are nonpublic schools out there to help students with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) and other disabilities. Our nonprofit school has been educating students with disabilities for over 40 years in the bay area and our Newton Learning Program is specifically designed for students diagnosed with ASD. We collaborate with school districts as well as accept private placements, yet we maintain a low student to staff ratio in our grades 1-12 classrooms. The program is designed as a social cognitive environment which will provide our students the knowledge and skills necessary to be successful in a mainstream setting. For more information on us go to http://www.secondstart.org or for a list of schools in your area visit http://www.cde.ca.gov/re/sd/

  • Susan Riggle

    Obviously the new party line is that there is no increase in the prevalence of autism. That’s not what those who are experts in the field say. The MIND Institute has an article that expresses a different opinion: http://www.ucdmc.ucdavis.edu/welcome/features/20090218_autism_environment/.

    Also, the comment by one of the panelist saying that someone previously diagnosed with developmental delay would now be diagnosed as autistic is not correct. The rates of autism have risen considerably over the past 20 years while the rates of developmental delay have not decreased (they’ve stayed pretty steady).

    If the increase is only due to better ascertainment and recognition, then where in world are the autistic individuals that were previously missed? It may be anecdotal, but my son’s special-ed teacher (who has been in the business for over 30 years) said that the volume and severity of the children coming into her classes is significant and noticeable. The increase and severity could not be explained by population increase or just properly diagonosing a case that could have been missed. These children are characteristically autistic (communication difficulties, self stimulating and repetitive behaviors). We need to stop the denial or else we will not be prepared for the oncoming aging severely disabled autistic adults that will need services for years to come (especially after we parents are gone).

    • Anne K. Ross

      This is my experience as well. I follow the MIND Institute at UCDavis research, and in my 31 years as a school psychologist in the Bay Area I have seen an increase in the number of children all over the spectrum, from those who are characteristically autistic to those with more subtle (but still significant) behaviors/needs. Yes, we are more knowledgeable about the autism spectrum, but the changes in diagnostic categories cannot explain the significant increase entirely. In Beyond Rain Man (www.beyondrainman.com) I write about raising a son with Asperger’s while working with students on the autism spectrum with the hope that it will inform professionals and comfort/support parents of children who are struggling now with raising and educating their children. I also have resources on the website, and I post and tweet on FB and twitter in order to share all the information I can. I wish we’d had social media and support groups when my son was growing up!

  • kluny

    I am a special education teacher and while I do not primarily work with students with autism, I have a lot of experience with trying to integrate students with special needs in a general education classroom. First of all, integration/inclusion/mainstreaming has to be a win-win-win situation. Meaning a win for the special needs student, the other students in the class and the teacher. A “win” means the special needs student is benefitting academically, socially and emotionally. A win for the other students in the class is that they can access their curriculum without constant interruption and with their teacher being able to help them when needed–they need to benefit socially and emotionally during their school year as well and hopefully can learn to accept others that learn differently and befriend them. A win for the teacher would mean the teacher could teach the state curriculum to her class and a highly trained para-educator under the guidance of a special education teacher could support the special needs student by providing adapted curriculum support the students needs. The problems that arise is that sometimes parents demand that their child be included academically and that child is nowhere near their grade level academically and really cannot benefit from what is going on in the classroom, basically the parents are in denial of their child’s abilities. The second issue is that some, not all autistic students have very disruptive behaviors which would affect the learning environment. From my experience of 30 plus years, inclusion in pre-school and early elementary seems to benefit both the special and general education students socially (but that depends on the support systems and level on the autism spectrum a child is). Once students reach the upper elementary (3rd-5th), when peer group becomes more significant, most general Ed students do not want to socialize with special needs students–they often exclude them. As one student put it, ” it is too hard to be friends with him. He gets upset over small things and just doesn’t get it.”


Michael Krasny

Michael Krasny, PhD, has been in broadcast journalism since 1983. He was with ABC in both radio and television and migrated to public broadcasting in 1993. He has been Professor of English at San Francisco State University and also taught at Stanford, the University of San Francisco and the University of California, as well as in the Fulbright International Institutes. A veteran interviewer for the nationally broadcast City Arts and Lectures, he is the author of a number of books, including “Off Mike: A Memoir of Talk Radio and Literary Life” (Stanford University Press) “Spiritual Envy” (New World); “Sound Ideas” (with M.E. Sokolik/ McGraw-Hill); “Let There Be Laughter” (Harper-Collins) as well as the twenty-four lecture series in DVD, audio and book, “Short Story Masterpieces” (The Teaching Company). He has interviewed many of the world’s leading political, cultural, literary, science and technology figures, as well as major figures from the world of entertainment. He is the recipient of many awards and honors including the S.Y. Agnon Medal for Intellectual Achievement; The Eugene Block Award for Human Rights Journalism; the James Madison Freedom of Information Award; the Excellence in Journalism Award from the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association; Career Achievement Award from the Society of Professional Journalists and an award from the Radio and Television News Directors Association. He holds a B.A. (cum laude) and M.A. from Ohio University and a PhD from the University of Wisconsin.

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