Special Education Column

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An "encouraging" number of disabled students are participating in a Minnesota open-enrollment program, according to a study by University of Minnesota researchers.

The study, part of a larger examination of how school-choice programs affect disabled students, looks specifically at the state's postsecondary enrollment-options program. The program permits 11th and 12th graders to attend universities or technical and community colleges for high-school credit.

Of the 4,183 students in the program in December 1990, the study found, 318--or 8 percent--were special-needs students. Of that number, 17 percent qualified as gifted. Most of the remaining students were classified as learning-disabled and were attending technical colleges.

"The number of students considered gifted who are accessing postsecondary institutions during their high school years is not unexpected," wrote the researchers, Cheryl M. Lange and James E. Ysseldyke. "What is surprising, perhaps, is the number of students with disabilities who are participating in a program that requires postsecondary coursework."

The findings counter some concerns in the state that choice programs would leave disabled students behind, either because the postsecondary schools would reject them or because they might not be aware of the program.

"It is encouraging that students with disabilities are not being excluded," the researchers said.

A disproportionate number of parents of autistic children were found to have trouble telling a simple story, according to a study that points up possible genetic causes for autism.

In the study, published in the December 2991 issue of the Journal of Speech and Hearing Research, parents of 41 autistic children were asked to complete simple stories. The researchers found that 34 percent of the parents told stories that either lacked a beginning, middle, or end, or were otherwise "difficult to follow" because they included extraneous information. In contrast, in a control group of parents of non-impaired children, only 13 percent exhibited such difficulties.

All of the parents had normal intelligence or were gifted.

"There are a number of interpretations," said Rebecca Landa, the principal author of the study and an assistant professor of psychiatry at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. "It may be that there is a predisposition in some families for learning difficulties with the worst-case scenario being autism."

The researchers warned, however, that the findings were preliminary. The study is part of a larger, cross-national study that is tracing possible causes of autism in 240 families.--D.V.

Vol. 11, Issue 20

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