USA Today article states 1 in 6 have developmental disability | OpEd

May 23, 2011 Kyron No Comments

Really? 1 in 6?? I guess when you consider the ever increasing rate of autism and ADHD diagnoses, I shouldn’t be surprised. A USA Today article released yesterday, proclaimed this statistic in its headline. Some say the study underestimates the number of kids since some with learning disabilities are not diagnosed until much later. Either way, it’s a really shocking number:

More than 15% of school-age kids — about 10 million children — had a developmental disability in 2006-08, according to a study released Monday in the journalPediatrics. That’s up from 12.8% in 1997-99.

IMG 1841 300x182 USA Today article states 1 in 6 have developmental disability | OpEdIt doesn’t however mean that all of these children will need support services all of their life. As a matter of fact, in some respects I would think that the number of children being diagnosed rather than missed completely or pushed aside as lazy, slow or unmotivated means that these children more than generations before, have the ability to reach their full potential. How could that not be a wondrous and wonderful thing?

Well, because in this age of austerity brought on by crippling budget cuts, it seems that the first things that hit the chopping block are anything that falls into one of three categories: disability, education and poverty. A child needing special services is a double whammy. Those children who aren’t lucky enough to have parents who are pulling in 7 figure salaries or lottery winners will have an even harder road because getting intervention outside of the school will also be dramatically impacted. The underrepresented, the underprotected. The kids.

Turn the page in just about any newspaper from sea to shining sea and you will be hit with articles like this, or this, or even this. Funding is being cut everywhere and the public school systems across the country are feeling the pinch. More students requiring special education or related services is only going to stretch already sparse funding to the brink of disaster.

So what to do? It’s a serious question which needs serious debate by our elected representatives. There are plenty of places I can think cutting in the national budget  that would have less of an impact on our future as a country than reducing education spending. Our young are already falling behind so many other developed countries. The defense budget is just shy of 5% of the GDP which doesn’t sound like much until you look at the fact that its more than twice as much as what Russia, China, the UK and France spend – combined.

…the moral test of Government is how that Government treats those who are in the dawn of life, the children; those who are in the twilight of life, the elderly; and those who are in the shadows of life, the sick, the needy and the handicapped.

Hubert H. Humphrey, US politician (1911 – 1978)

Politicians of late have been quick to tell us that we have to cut back on entitlement spending if we’re going to reduce this deficit. Entitlement spending = Medicaid, Medicare, Social Security. The old, the infirm, the weak, the children. We’re told that people have to get used to the idea of an era in this country where entitlements as we once knew them no longer exist. To some degree I even understand and agree with that. The retirement age has to go up, medicare must have some serious reforms in how it’s managed, but what we must not do is be what my Grandma Murphy would have called “penny wise, pound foolish”.

Special education costs money. Early intervention services cost money (which are in many cases funded through Medicaid). The problem is that it’s looked at as money down the drain rather than the investment in the future it is. Money spent now on early intervention services and education as early as the developmental disabilities are identified will save money in the long run. Children who are taught how to work around a learning disability are young adults who can go on to college, or trade school and be productive, tax paying members of society. Children who have more complex needs have a much better chance of  being productive, taxpaying members of society with the proper intervention services provided early on. Even the most profound of those with developmental disabilities stand a better chance of being supported within the community rather than in intermediate care facilities with proper intervention and education that is aimed at making them as independent as possible. (According to testimony at recent National Council on Disability (NCD) hearing community supports costs approximately $27,000 annually compared to the intermediate care facility that would cost $75,000.)

If an astonishing 1 in 6 of our children are now being identified with developmental disabilities it is no longer acceptable for our representatives on either side of the aisle to ignore the very real crisis that is headed our way. The lack of funding for education and special education in particular is the slippery slope to a disaster for our country that is going to create a future society incapable of taking care of those in the shadows of life as it is proving to be in caring for them in the dawn of life.

I hope politicians on all sides can come together before that becomes the reality one in six of our children faces.

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