Over the past few years, there have been unfounded studies that link autism to vaccinations, prenatal vitamins, and other factors. If nothing else, these studies serve to show how little we really know about autism and related disorders. A growing community geared towards autism awareness is helping to shed light and form support groups for those with special needs; this is the first step towards eliminating ignorance and creating a kinder, more understanding world for those with special needs.
Autism is a mental disorder that resulted in impaired cognitive development and difficulty with social interactions — autism comes in many different forms with every case as unique as the individuals themselves. Autism actually belongs to a family of related disorders referred to as autism spectrum disorders (ASDs). In addition to autism there is Asperger syndrome which lacks the distinctive delays in cognitive development and language that traditionally characterizes autism. The third disorder is pervasive developmental disorder, which is diagnosed when the full set of criteria for Asperger’s and autism are not met. Although autism does have a strong genetic basis, the genetics themselves are extremely complex; it is still unclear whether ASDs are explained principally by rare genetic mutations or instead by rare combinations of more common genes.
What Public School Systems Lack
Many public schools have special education programs for those with learning disabilities. In many cases, these programs are lead by a certified instructor that has experience working with ASDs. Unfortunately, not every school system approaches special education in the same way; this can result in a lack of funding that forces special educators to use whatever resources are available to supplement the special education program. Studies found that within two years of high school, less than half of those with ASDs have paying jobs — this is the lowest rate of any disabled group. Thanks to the growing social awareness of ASDs, a growing number of special needs schools are spreading throughout the country to give these children the advantage they need to truly shine.
Special Education Schools
There is no one-way to approach ASD education — as stated before, ASDs are as unique as the children themselves. To this end, special education schools prepare an Individualized Education Program (IEP) with goals and instructions custom-tailored to each student’s unique needs. Faculty and staff work closely with each student to assess their strengths and weaknesses — it is estimated that anywhere between 0.5% to 10% of those with ASD possess unique and otherwise unusual abilities. Some with ASDs are musically inclined and others have the ability to memorize unusual amounts of trivia not unlike the real-life Rain Man, Kim Peek (although Peek suffered from FG syndrome rather than an ASD). By focusing on the strengths of students and working though weaknesses, special education schools are able to give students an educational advantage that is rarely met through public special education programs. Autism is complex; it takes a dedicated team of educators to help the world see just how special these children can be.
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