George Lucas Educational Foundation

Special Report: Overcoming Autism

How public schools struggle with a special-needs crisis, plus profiles of three programs that work, and a look at technology as teacher's aid.
Edutopia Team
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As education budgets shrink and federal standards multiply, public schools must scramble to find ways to improve and innovate on a shoestring. Now, with a staggering increase in the number of children diagnosed with autism, they face another formidable challenge: providing many thousands of children with special education that can cost an average of $19,000 per child, per year.

In this special report, we look at a daunting special-needs crisis and the ways some public school programs have managed to cope, successfully, with the challenge. The centerpiece of the package looks at the overall impact of an influx of autistic students to the nation’s public schools. In three shorter features, we focus on programs in California, Massachusetts, and New York that have earned praise and shown promising outcomes. Another story examines how assistive technology can be especially useful for certain autistic students, and another illustrates how one peer-to-peer program for autistic students provides both academic and social and emotional learning to everyone involved.

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Carol Schmidt's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

As a parent of a child with autism, I want to be part of the solution, not part of the problem. After many disappointing years in the public school system, I wrote a book for parents and educators so that successful intervention strategies can be passed along without "reinventing the wheel." Autism in the School-Aged Child is a book of practical strategies for promoting success in both the home and school environments. I will gladly sell this book at 40% off retail to anyone involved in the education of children with autism. Visit our website at

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

hi my named is Candace Long im 16 and my little brothers name is Houston hes 11... i love him to death but hes something else....i have a brother with autism and they didnt think that he was cause he was so loving. its just where they are rasied and how they are taking care and shown love that has a effect on how they act and let me tell you he has a temper like no other but i still care bout him. when he was younger they tried to say that he wasn't that he was just slow. my parents went to like 5 differnt doctors tofind out why he wasnt talking at age 3 they said that they didnt know what they were talking bout and that he was fine. but then finelly they found a doctor named mary ann block that told us that he had autism.their is a special deit to make him talk well we did the deit for like 2 weeks the stuff was too expecive and we could not do it any more but it was working he was talking to were we could understand him but now hes back to just jabbering every now and then you can catch a word or to but thats bout it.

Gail Olivas's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I am a public school teacher in Miami, and I am currently teaching a combination third/fourth grade gifted class. We read two excellent children's novels on children with disabilities: RULES and THE THING ABOUT GEORGIE. Afterwards, I sent the children out by two's to visit our Special Ed classrooms (after receiving the other teachers' OK). I've received positive feedback from the Special Ed teachers on how helpful my students were, and now I'm sending them for 1/2 hour every week. I think it's a win-win situation: my students are learning empathy and the rewards of being able to help others, and the teachers and students in the Special Ed classes are getting extra help.

Peter's picture

Hi there,

I'm a teacher in Surabaya, Indonesia. Since last year I have a student with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) in my class. Last year, we ( the teachers who taught him) still could manage to teach him and made him perform well in his study. But this year, it seems like he has changed quite much.

He seems has lost his motivation and interest in his study. To make it worse, his parents are busy with their work, and just back home quite late. Thus, there is no one who monitors on his activities. When we asked him to write his activity timetable, we found out that everyday he plays computer game 5 to 6 hours, and will just study for 2 hours the most.

We already talked about this issue with his parents but the respond is not that supporting enough. We tried to push him harder, but he becomes sensitive and reacting in unexpected ways.

Can you please give any suggestion, what can we do, to keep giving him chance to study ?

Thank you.

Sue Izeman's picture

Hi Peter - I've been working with students with ASD for over 30 years, so I hope I have some ideas that will help you. You don't say how old your student is, but I'm guessing he must be a teenager, if he's allowed to be at home for so long unsupervised. I'm also assuming he must be sort of smart - if he's expected to do his homework on his own.

So - my main suggestion would be to include him in the planning and motivation. What does he like? What does he want to do when he is done with school? Maybe there's a career he's interested in, that could help him be motivated to do schoolwork? I'm working with a young man now who is 16, and is also home by himself for several hours a day. He is not motivated by wanting to please his teachers or his parents (the social connection is not a strong motivator for him). He does understand that he has to pass a certain number of classes in order to finish High School (at 18), and that is a big motivator - he does not want to fail his classes! He is also motivated to be in the school band - and has to pass his classes to do that, too. Just this month, he talked to a counselor at school about what he wants to do when he graduates - his big dream is to get a job and an apartment of his own!

I think, for your student, find the things that interest him and that he is willing to work for. But also, ask him - find out what he wants. If he agrees on the goals of the classwork, he will be more motivated to do the work. Students with ASD often have their own view of how the world should work, and are not usually following the social norms. He will not be as motivated to 'please the teacher' as some of your other students. But again, you should ask him why he does not want to do his work. The work could be too hard or too easy, and he might not know how to explain that to you.....due to language issues for children with ASD.

I hope this helps a little - please let me know if you have other questions.

Ahbez Eden's picture

In my opinion, private schools offer far more quality and can be of great help for students with autism and other learning disabilities. Private schools have become far more accessible over the years and are far more influential and effective for students.

James Trott's picture

$19000 per child per year is around the tuition fee of private special ed schools, which is okay when the quality of education in the school in good. It is necessary that parents are able to find the right school, public or private, for their kids to help counter autism.

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