In Orange County, one child in 63 has been diagnosed with autism and is receiving special education services (California Department of Education, 2011). Although the number of public school students with this diagnosis continues to grow, many public schools are not equipped to provide the safe environment needed for an ASD student to thrive. According to Focus on Autism and Other Developmental Disorders, the most significant challenge facing the autism field is the lack of qualified teachers to educate and support students with ASD.
Students with autism also face the challenge of unique learning styles. While neurotypical students (students who are not on the autism spectrum) learn to visualize and plan for their futures in high school, students with autism have no concept of “future time.” They are unable to view themselves objectively enough to picture themselves in a job, driving a car, having a family, or other abstract future situations. Additionally, students with autism typically do not benefit from incidental learning, which is unintentional or unplanned learning that results from other activities or from interacting with other students. For both future time and incidental learning, students with autism have to be taught these learning/behavior processes that neurotypical students have a natural ability to do.
Another challenge is the need for social skills education. This is the most important component to education for this population as youth on the spectrum are typically highly intelligent(60%) but many find it difficult to successfully integrate into society as adults. Without adequate social skills training and practice, these students may never develop the skills needed to maintain steady employment, live independently from their families, and have other experiences that result in a full and happy life.