California is the golden state, Florida the sunshine state and Texas the Lone star state, New Jersey is the Garden State. Perhaps New Jersey should change its name from the Garden State to the special education largess state. It would appear that this state has a pretty excessive amount of spending on the education, speech therapy, etc. of children with autism, according to an article in today's new york times. The article states that the costs of educating an autistic child range from $30,000 to $150,000 a year with the cost of educating a typical child in New Jersey approximately $10,000 a year. The costs of educating an autistic child in New Jersey are even more expensive than educating children with other disabilities such as mental retardation without autism. Half of autistic children receive out of district placements whereas about 22% with mental retardation are placed out of district. The out of district placements are far more expensive. The students often receive expensive speech and occupational therapy costing from $65 to $90/hour.
Some school districts that have enough classified students to have their own programs end up attracting more autistic students such as the Cherry Hill school district in South Jersey. "When Districts have good programs they become magnets" Charles Lange, director of special services, for the Cherry Hill district, was quoted as saying in the article.
The article quotes the costs of educating one severely autistic child as $200,000 a year placement in a residential school.
The 1 in 150 prevalence figure that is oftcited for autism comes from the study that the CDC did two years ago. They studied several states and this figure was not universal for each state but was an average of several states with Alabama being well below the average and New Jersey being well above the average of 1 in 150 in autism prevalence.
Those who believe there has been a real autism increase due to some environmental factor cite the differences in pollutants between alabama and new jersey as the cause but provide no real evidence. As far as I know, no one has shown that vaccination rates are higher in New Jersey than in other states.
Those who may not believe the increase is real would argue that perhaps due to services or more money being spent on special education students in New Jersey, that the state is attractive to those out of state who will move to New Jersey seeking services. The findings of the CDC study argued against this showing that the majority of children with autism in New Jersey were born in the state.
However, the CDC study does not control for differences in service level of various school districts within the state and persons within the state moving to another district and obtaining a coveted autism diagnosis due to the huge amount of money some school districts in this state are willing to spend on special education students. Perhaps, this largess is an explanation for the high prevalence of autism in New Jersey.
One must question what all of this spending on special education accomplishes. As I have written before there are no adult outcomes published from the children who supposedly achieved normal functioning in Lovaas (1987). What good does speech therapy and occupational therapy do? How do these children fare as adults? As far as I know, there are no employment figures showing reduced unemployment among autistics or a casual relationship or even a correlation between special education spending, early intervention and improved outcomes of autistic children. Various researchers such as Peter Szatzmari and Eaves and Ho have shown that in some cases autistic children end up having very good outcomes regardless of what intervention is done. If someone improved while getting special education services there may not even be a casual relationship.
One also must remember the questionable cost-benefit analyses of Jacobsen et al based on Lovaas 1987, which erroneously assumes that interest rates and the rate of inflation will remain stable for decades. Also, the cost-benefit analyses don't take into consideration that punishments such as hitting children and electric shocks were the effective ingredient in Lovaas (1987) In states such as California, where I live, aversives have been outlawed, so the findings of Lovaas 1987 would not be applicable to the type of ABA these states would do without aversives.
Also, an article appeared in the atlantic journal constitution some years ago by Andrew Mollison (sorry could not find it online or would link it but did read it when it came out in 2002) Showed that since the inception of the IDEA that disabled students were failing to make overall gains in test scores and that almost a third of them ended up as high school drop outs. Mollison further reported that only 28% of states reported average scores of the disabled children improved in any way. The then time assistant secretary of the u.s. department of education, Robert Pasternack, stated that the longer the amount of time a student spent in special ed, the bigger the gap in test scores between them and the regular ed. students.
Given the above facts one has to wonder whether all of the money the state of New Jersey spends on special ed is money well spent. One also wonders if New Jersey is not a haven for special educators, speech therapists, etc. looking for a quick buck at the expense of children diagnosed as autistic and whether this diagnosis does indeed follow the dollar sign in New Jersey. Perhaps this huge spending on special education that the state of New Jersey engages in are part of special education being one of the great autism ripoffs, that I hope to write about someday in Autism's gadfly. Of course, doing the requisite research is hard for me due to my disability. I have started to do it and then I came across this very fascinating article in the New York times and it was the inspiration for this blog piece. Perhaps a study should be done showing how many ABA therapists, speech and occupational therapists have moved to New Jersey from other states.