Public Policy and the Shaping of Disability: Incidence Growth in Educational Autism


  • Dana Lee Baker University of Missouri-Columbia



Autism has gained the attention of policy makers and public administrators in recent years. The surge in prevalence, in tandem with a growing social preference for community inclusion of individuals with disabilities, strains a variety of policy infrastructures. Autism and related disorders, which were first described in 1943, were originally thought to be extremely low incidence and usually coincident with mental retardation. In accordance with the disability policy paradigm of the era, public services for autism were provided predominantly in institutional settings. Since then, however, autism and related disorders have come to be understood as more common than was originally thought and more rarely associated with mental retardation. In this article, shift-share analysis is used to gain insight into how the growth in autism incidence is being differentially experienced and recorded within a single arena of policy across the United States. The challenges associated with a sudden growth in supply (that is the number of children with autism), while unique to autism in some respects, include aspects that are similar for other disabilities and in policy challenges in other arenas. Especially since the implementation of the Government Performance Results Act of 1996, there is increased pressure to create public policy infrastructures that are anchored by clearly cut categorical service delivery. If the categories themselves leave significant room for interpretation and their use actually has a shaping effect on the target population, then it is important to administration and policy evaluation to understand how the effect is playing out.


Download data is not yet available.

Author Biography

Dana Lee Baker, University of Missouri-Columbia

Baker’s primary research interests are in disability and children’s policy with a comparative focus. She is also fascinated by the study of public policy particularly disability policy and agenda setting. She earned her bachelor’s degree in History and Religious Studies at Rice University and her Masters of Public Policy at the University of Southern California. While working on her Masters degree, Baker was a caseworker for the Alliance for Children’s Rights in Los Angeles and interned with the Los Angeles chapter of Physicians for Social Responsibility. Baker did her Ph.D. work at the Lyndon Baines Johnson School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas at Austin.




How to Cite

Baker, D. L. . (2004). Public Policy and the Shaping of Disability: Incidence Growth in Educational Autism. Education Policy Analysis Archives, 12, 11.