Over 200 classes in schools and preschools for children with autism are beyond full capacity this school year, with an increase of 86 percent over the previous year. In 145 such preschools and 83 classrooms for children on the autism spectrum only, the Education Ministry standard for the number of students – limited to eight per class – has been exceeded, according to Education Ministry figures obtained by Haaretz.
The education system has about 25,000 students this year who have been diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), compared to around 21,000 last year. Some are integrated into regular classes, others are in special classes in regular schools – and the rest study in dedicated frameworks in special education. A 2019 study showed that the percentage of children diagnosed with autism in Israel had risen by 169 percent within a decade.
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This school year, 5,200 students are learning in special needs classes within mainstream schools, a 25 percent increase compared to the previous school year. The number of such preschool classes rose by 16 percent and the number of school classes by 19 percent. This gap has led to 14 percent of the classes having nine or 10 students, compared to only 7.5 percent the year before. The minimal number of students required by the Education Ministry to open such a class is five.
“The Education Ministry is not keeping up. The data reflects the difficulty in properly preparing without a broad multi-year plan to accomodate the rate of growth in the number of children diagnosed with autism,” Michael Zats, of the Israeli Society for Autistic Children (Alut), told Haaretz. “Today, children are placed in frameworks that are not appropriate for them at the most critical ages. This leads to frustration and regression of their progress.”
The Education Ministry declined to comment for this report.