The "Autism epidemic" and Texas public schools : economic, educational, and ethical considerations for public school superintendents
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The purported existence of an “autism epidemic" has been vociferously debated both in the popular media and in academic research. One oft-cited study suggests that newly identified diagnoses of autism have increased 30% over the preceding decade to the point of potentially afflicting as many as 1 in 68 students (Centers for Disease Control, 2014). This influx merits close evaluation given existing research which postulates the existence of relationships between rates of ASD identification and ethnic and socioeconomic factors (Bhasin & Schendel, 2007). This potential disparity, coupled with ongoing budgetary constraints, the inherent ambiguity of existing litigation, and changing demographic projections, presents a number of financial, legal, and ethical impediments for public school superintendents in their ongoing efforts to ensure the efficacy and equity of services for students with ASD. Accordingly, this study analyzed the existence of any potential correlations between rates of ASD identification (expressed as a percentage of enrolled students whose primary Texas Education Agency special education eligibility criteria is "AU" or autism) and other ethnic and socioeconomic subpopulations evaluated in Public Education Information Management System (PEIMS) data. Prospective correlations were examined at both the campus level for each respective elementary campus in the case study district and at the district level for each Texas public school district which participated in a due process hearing predicated by an “AU” eligibility (or lack thereof) for the 2006-2007 through 2013-2014 academic years. Research questions were analyzed using the Pearson Product Moment Correlation and Spearman's ρ Rank Order Correlation Coefficients. The magnitude of practical effect size was determined using the Cohen's d algorithm. This study returned the following selected results: 1. A statistically and practically significant positive relationship exists between percentage of campus "AU" enrollment and the percentage of campus enrollment for the White subpopulation. 2. Statistically and practically significant negative relationships exist between percentage of campus "AU" enrollment and the percentage of campus enrollment for the Hispanic and African-American subpopulations respectively. 3. Statistically and practically significant negative relationships exist between percentage of campus "AU" enrollment and the percentage of campus enrollment for the Economically Disadvantaged and At Risk subpopulations respectively.