The public school enrollment of autistic children, whether born into privileged or impoverished circumstances, has gone from a trickle to a flood. Their legal rights are crashing up against strapped school budgets.
Under two federal laws — the Individuals With Disabilities Education Act and the Rehabilitation Act, both passed in the 1970s and revised over the years — all special-needs children, including those with autism, are entitled to free and appropriate public school educations in the least restrictive environment. And, science shows, the sooner children with autism get treatment, the better their odds of speaking, reading, learning and eventually living independently.
A breakthrough discovery, released Feb. 18 in the online publication of the journal Nature Genetics, could mean that someday medical science might pinpoint the disorder in infancy, or even before birth. Researchers homed in on the genes behind autism, putting an early DNA test within reach.