We all want our children to be granted a sound education in an environment that is secure, with educators who are passionate and standards that are stringent. Parents whose kids are on the autism spectrum recognize that what their child learns in school can lay the groundwork for a stable life ahead.

And more needs of parents of children with autism are ever-increasing as the rate of occurrence of autism rises. Just one statistic can be used to illustrate this; in the year 2000, an estimated 1 in every 150 kids were autistic. Today, it has ballooned to 1 in 36 kids.

Emphasis on Nevada Autism

Following these shocking statistics, we want to emphasize autism in Nevada, looking particularly into the educational and service offerings that are available for those with such a diagnosis, as well as families in Nevada.

CEO and founder of 101 Barbershop, Stacie Skillman, expressed that she was motivated to create her business due to the hardships she encountered. Based in Henderson, the shop offers free haircuts to kids on the spectrum every Tuesday afternoon. This initiative was born out of Stacie’s own experiences.

“I witnessed the significance of haircuts and the joy they brought to these children,” Skillman remarked. “No similar services were available in Las Vegas, so that’s how our Autism Tuesday Special Needs Program was born.”

Shortage of service providers

While private companies such as Skillman’s are striving to supply aid to individuals affected by autism, in Nevada, it is an uphill battle to gain access to formal therapies and educational services — with diagnosis being even more difficult. Jennifer Strobel, director of Families for Effective Autism Treatment, noted that the backlog is made worse by a shortage of service providers.

“There is a high rate of staff replacements for those who work with children with autism,” said Strobel. “Yet our reimbursement rate for behavioral health services in Nevada is among the lowest in the country, making it difficult to attract and retain enough qualified professionals such as Registered Behavior Technicians and neuropsychologists. This situation impedes our state’s ability to diagnose behaviors and provide necessary assistance.”

“Moreover, Clark County is currently experiencing a lack of teachers. Because of that, class sizes throughout all curriculum, including those of students with special needs, are escalating. In addition to this, some educational institutions within the Clark County School District are reducing the number of aides in special needs classrooms.”

Increase of Class Sizes

CCSD’s KIDS Program, which caters to 3 to 5-year-olds with autism, has decided to reduce their teacher’s aides in select classrooms from two to one and, at the same time, expand class sizes from 10 students to 11. This move is perhaps aimed at freeing up funds (and personnel) to increase the program’s reach, going from 161 schools this school year to 183 for the upcoming one.

The result? According to Adonna Miller, an educator with a decade of teaching experience in the KIDS Program, the result is deteriorating morale among CCSD special education staff. Miller expressed her worries, saying: “The teachers in the KIDS Program are really anxious. I know of some instructors who have already left the program, and a few even quit Clark County completely.”

For Drew White-Jacobson, the parent of two children with autism (one of them being the 11th student in Miller’s class), this ratio of adults to students is a cause for alarm. “It’s a worry about safety,” White-Jacobson commented. “The level of education these kids will receive is certain to degrade. I know how much care and focus these kids require.”

 Spreading Awareness

The two founders launched the Autism Advocacy Organization for Clark County in May, following CCSD’s implementation of their changes. They work to make more people aware of the developments in District schools so that parents who have children on the spectrum can fight for quality early education. They believe this will help their kids achieve better outcomes.

The District’s Action

In a brief announcement, the District declared that it is taking steps to guarantee all autism-related special education programs have at least one educator and one assistant for the upcoming school year. Nevertheless, they also mentioned that every school might draw from their current funds to employ additional teacher’s aides or seek out special financing aid.

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