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Helena, MT: Autism "ballooned"; 109% increase in 5 yrs in district schools

Dec 23, 2018, Helena (MT) Independent Record: Helena schools implementing new programs to address rising autism rates This is the first story in a two-part series about the rising number of Helena students with special needs, and the programs available to them. Helena's schools have recently seen a significant increase in conditions such as autism that can cause emotional disturbance and affect formal speech and language skills. According to data collected by the school district's special education department, autism in particular has ballooned by 109 percent over the past five years. The number of diagnosed students district-wide grew from 69 in 2013 to 144 in 2018. … “The tools to identify autism have gotten way better, but the category is very broad and ranges from high IQ/low social cognition to students with low social abilities and poor communication skills,” Maharg said. “We as a district have gotten better at identifying autism, but the frequency of impacted students has increased a lot since 2000.” Shelley Burbank, a board-certified behavioral analyst with the district, said that while awareness of autism is up, the overall number of affected students is also up in all races and classes in society. …

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