Monday, December 22, 2008

New Jersey: The special education largess state?

California is the golden state, Florida the sunshine state and Texas the Lone star state, New Jersey is the Garden State. Perhaps New Jersey should change its name from the Garden State to the special education largess state. It would appear that this state has a pretty excessive amount of spending on the education, speech therapy, etc. of children with autism, according to an article in today's new york times . The article states that the costs of educating an autistic child range from $30,000 to $150,000 a year with the cost of educating a typical child in New Jersey approximately $10,000 a year. The costs of educating an autistic child in New Jersey are even more expensive than educating children with other disabilities such as mental retardation without autism. Half of autistic children receive out of district placements whereas about 22% with mental retardation are placed out of district. The out of district placements are far more expensive. The students often receive expensive speech and occupational therapy costing from $65 to $90/hour.

Some school districts that have enough classified students to have their own programs end up attracting more autistic students such as the Cherry Hill school district in South Jersey. "When Districts have good programs they become magnets" Charles Lange, director of special services, for the Cherry Hill district, was quoted as saying in the article.

The article quotes the costs of educating one severely autistic child as $200,000 a year placement in a residential school.

The 1 in 150 prevalence figure that is oftcited for autism comes from the study that the CDC did two years ago. They studied several states and this figure was not universal for each state but was an average of several states with Alabama being well below the average and New Jersey being well above the average of 1 in 150 in autism prevalence.

Those who believe there has been a real autism increase due to some environmental factor cite the differences in pollutants between alabama and new jersey as the cause but provide no real evidence. As far as I know, no one has shown that vaccination rates are higher in New Jersey than in other states.

Those who may not believe the increase is real would argue that perhaps due to services or more money being spent on special education students in New Jersey, that the state is attractive to those out of state who will move to New Jersey seeking services. The findings of the CDC study argued against this showing that the majority of children with autism in New Jersey were born in the state.

However, the CDC study does not control for differences in service level of various school districts within the state and persons within the state moving to another district and obtaining a coveted autism diagnosis due to the huge amount of money some school districts in this state are willing to spend on special education students. Perhaps, this largess is an explanation for the high prevalence of autism in New Jersey.

One must question what all of this spending on special education accomplishes. As I have written before there are no adult outcomes published from the children who supposedly achieved normal functioning in Lovaas (1987). What good does speech therapy and occupational therapy do? How do these children fare as adults? As far as I know, there are no employment figures showing reduced unemployment among autistics or a casual relationship or even a correlation between special education spending, early intervention and improved outcomes of autistic children. Various researchers such as Peter Szatzmari and Eaves and Ho have shown that in some cases autistic children end up having very good outcomes regardless of what intervention is done. If someone improved while getting special education services there may not even be a casual relationship.

One also must remember the questionable cost-benefit analyses of Jacobsen et al based on Lovaas 1987, which erroneously assumes that interest rates and the rate of inflation will remain stable for decades. Also, the cost-benefit analyses don't take into consideration that punishments such as hitting children and electric shocks were the effective ingredient in Lovaas (1987) In states such as California, where I live, aversives have been outlawed, so the findings of Lovaas 1987 would not be applicable to the type of ABA these states would do without aversives.

Regular readers of autism's gadfly will also recall that I wrote a piece about half of special ed students failing the high school exit exam .

Also, an article appeared in the atlantic journal constitution some years ago by Andrew Mollison (sorry could not find it online or would link it but did read it when it came out in 2002) Showed that since the inception of the IDEA that disabled students were failing to make overall gains in test scores and that almost a third of them ended up as high school drop outs. Mollison further reported that only 28% of states reported average scores of the disabled children improved in any way. The then time assistant secretary of the u.s. department of education, Robert Pasternack, stated that the longer the amount of time a student spent in special ed, the bigger the gap in test scores between them and the regular ed. students.

Given the above facts one has to wonder whether all of the money the state of New Jersey spends on special ed is money well spent. One also wonders if New Jersey is not a haven for special educators, speech therapists, etc. looking for a quick buck at the expense of children diagnosed as autistic and whether this diagnosis does indeed follow the dollar sign in New Jersey. Perhaps this huge spending on special education that the state of New Jersey engages in are part of special education being one of the great autism ripoffs, that I hope to write about someday in Autism's gadfly. Of course, doing the requisite research is hard for me due to my disability. I have started to do it and then I came across this very fascinating article in the New York times and it was the inspiration for this blog piece. Perhaps a study should be done showing how many ABA therapists, speech and occupational therapists have moved to New Jersey from other states.


Unknown said...


What do you suggest should be done to help or to educate autistic children with varying degrees of communication, intellectual or learning challenges?

jonathan said...

Well home schooling whenever possible and perhaps a social group for autistic children, similar to AGUA (adult gathering united autistics) which I helped form in los angeles in the early 1990s, to foster social interaction. Also, trying to keep them out of stressful situations that could exacerbate certain problems.

Other than that I have no practical suggestions since education and helping children is not really my forte.

Until research that is funded by autism speaks and other organizations I really don't feel that there is much that can be done for persons with autism, some will have a better prognosis than others based on factors that are probably largely out of anyone's control.

I believe that at some point science has the potential to find ways to prevent people from becoming autistic in utero or maybe even curing autism. If not that at least the next best thing and maybe having science research that will find medications or other solutions that will mitigate the problems of autistic children.

As you know from reading my blog, harold, I have a rather pessimistic outlook on things in general, and I am not too optimistic about any easy solutions to the problems of autistic children happening anytime soon. I wish I had more practical and better advice to offer parents such as yourself who long to have something that will help their children with behavioral and cognitive challenges but unfortunately I do not.

jonathan said...

sorry harold made some errors in that last post, I meant until research that is funded by autism speaks and other organizations similar helps find a cure or makes breakthroughs in autism, I am not too optimistic about what can be done

Anonymous said...


If you argue against education for autistic children, you've lost me. Autistic students don't drop out at higher rates than non-autistic children. All children deserve an education. Special education often costs more because it requires teachers with specialized degrees, classes are smaller, some students require extensive medical attention while in school (students with CP, diabetic students with drip bags etc.) Home schooling would be nice, but most parents need to work and can't hire private tutors.

You spent many years in a private special education school. How was your experience and did you benefit from it?

Anonymous said...

Let me add this, I think your questioning of the effectiveness of special education is a good one, especially after I started to look this up. I'm finding some interesting information so far and I think this subject is really worth looking at because it appears states didn't even collect much data until 1995.

My first reaction was anger at what you wrote but I think you bring up a good point. We need to look at the effectiveness of what our states are doing and see if it really works. I don't think Jonathan is advocating that autistic students don't deserve an education, but that the education system now may be a waste of time because it isn't effective. Its much too easy to dismiss his post with an initial emotional response.


jonathan said...

Hi CS: I am an 8 year veteran of special education, from personal experience I can see how unhelpful it was to me and other people and the pie-in-the-sky promises that are made which are in reality shit-from-the-sewer. This is what motivates me to question the exhorbitant cost of special education.

I never said that persons with autism don't deserve an education. The problem is, that without a cure or until legitimate medical treatments are found they are not going to benefit immensely from much education, so I question whether this money is money well spent. It is true, that I was in special education prior to the enactment of IDEA in 1975 but I feel this law is a mistake and has made everything much worse and hopefully i will be able to post more about IDEA the great autism ripoff in future posts.

Anonymous said...

Hi Jonathon,

If I may ask, is your mother still alive? What was she like, while you were growing up, and what was her attitude towards autism?

jonathan said...

yes, Ivar, my mom is still living, she was a nice mother and her attitude towards autism was like mine, that it is a horrible disability that needs to be cured. She also tried to get help for my perceptual motor problems with tutoring and sent me to some special education schools and looked for medications or other treatments that could alleviate my problems but there were none that did any good.

jonathan said...

ivar, your further comment about my mother was rejected. Regardless about how you feel about my beliefs concerning a cure for autism you should leave my mother out of it.

M.J. said...

Maybe my experience is different than other peoples but we are seeing improvements in our twin daughters with autism from the ABA/DTT and speech therapy. It isn't an instant cure and there are some areas that are especially slow going. But by and large it helping them learn the skills like talking that they are not picking up on their own.

Maybe this is one of those areas were some types of therapy work for some children but not for others. I can say that the relationship between the therapist and the child is critical. Maybe that is what makes the difference between working and not working.

I don't think the lack of information about adult outcomes is that surprising for several reasons. The first is that the adult population is not well understood and is most likely smaller than the current child population. The second reason is that the children who are receiving this new level of intensive intervention are not yet adults. It is my understanding that the shift to early intensive early intervention started gaining widespread acceptance and use a little over 10 years ago. So it will take time before the current generation grows up and becomes adults.

jonathan said...

Hi MJ: Since you are doing ABA with your daughters you are probably familiar with the 1987 study of Lovaas claiming half of the children undergoing the treatment achieved normal functioning. This study took place between 1970 and 1987. The oldest of the children who took part in this study are now in their 40s. Lovaas' graduate student, Mcceachin sp? did a follow-up study of these children in adolescence. They have received NIMH funding to study and publish adult outcomes of these children. They have made informal presentations at a couple of conferences claiming success of some of their adult subjects, but have never published in a peer reviewed journal. I wrote to Tristram Smith, one of the people who worked with Ivar Lovaas and he claimed they wanted to publish about the adult outcomes in a journal but that "logistical problems" whatever that means prevented them from doing so. I don't know why these logistical problems did not prevent them from giving the conferences.

If you reread my post you will see that cost-benefit analyses have been made of these supposed adult successes. I do not believe it is ethical to do a cost-benefit analyses until the results of lovaas'adult outcomes are published in a peer reviewed journal