The Rise in Autism and Its Costs

By Joetta Sack-Min

On its seaside perch, New Jersey’s Brick Township beckons new residents with its small-town charm, Cape Cod–style homes, public beaches, and smattering of pizza joints -- all within commuting distance to New York City.

School officials here, though, see families coming to the area for an entirely different reason: Their district, they say, has become a mecca for parents seeking a better education and therapies for their autistic children.

Brick’s reputation for providing excellent education and services for children with autism is both flattering and vexing to the district. Educating children with this complex condition puts a strain on the budget and the staff -- it costs between $20,000 and $43,000 annually to educate a child with autism in Brick.

“The cost is excessive, but we have an obligation to provide for all children in the community,” says Melindo A. Perci, Brick’s interim superintendent.

Diagnoses of autism in school-age children have soared 900 percent over the past decade -- the fastest rising numbers of any childhood disability -- and they show no signs of abating. While the reason for the increase is not clear, these numbers guarantee that most districts across the country are facing the challenge of educating autistic children. 

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