GIS in Education of Autism Students


Autism limits an individual’s ability to learn, socialize, communicate, pay attention, and subjects him to repetitive behavior (Kennedy & Banks 5). Like any other problem, the earlier these symptoms are detected in a child, the easier it will be to deal with them. Often, parents with autistic children are not aware of the resources available to cater for the special needs of their young ones. As a result, autistic children are denied the opportunity to develop like normal children. The concern over this has led to the need to create awareness among the public on autism resources. One of the tools used in spreading information on autistic resources, particularly educational facilities, is the Geographic Information System (GIS).

Case Study 1: Missouri

Missouri provides a good case study for two reasons. One, Missouri had not been included in the Autism Speaks database, a website containing critical information on how to deal with autism (Peterson 9). The second reason is that in 2002, Missouri showed the highest number of autism cases with no information on the locations with autism resources. As a result, the special needs of such children were not met. The first step in solving this problem was to design a database bearing the resources for autistic individuals in the state of Missouri. The database was designed in such a way as to accommodate new information as it came in.

The second step was to present the data in a user-friendly way, including a map showing the areas with autistic resources. The third and final step was to publicize the information sources so that they can be of use to future researchers in the same field. This project resulted in generating maps showing the locations of autism resource centers in Missouri by county, and the type of facility. The burden of searching for these facilities previously borne by parents was now lifted.

Case Study 2: New York

Western New York has a number of schools devoted to autistic students. Examples include Riverview School, Buffalo Hearing and Speech Center, Cantalician Center for Learning among others. A study of public schools in New York was done to establish the state’s autism prevalence rates. This was carried out for the years 1992-2003 on the basis that there was no documentation of autism statistics nationally, or in the individual states, and yet it was an ever-growing problem. The objectives were therefore to investigate the occurrence of autism in public schools, including the highest occurrence and the variation in autism rates over time. In summary, the results show an increase in autism cases in the period 1992 to 2003, mostly occurring in young children. The increase in cases of autism was estimated to grow at 15% annually. GIS was especially useful in representing the variation in autism occurrence over time.

In 1992, the highest cases of autism were reported in children aged below 5 years; in 1997, it mostly occurred in the age group of 5 to 21. In addition, in 2003, it was prevalent among the 22 to 38 year olds. With these results, the conclusion is that more time and resources should be geared towards mitigating the problem, especially because it is growing with time. Moreover, because this condition is most common in young children, parents should pay special attention to their children as they develop. Any notable abnormality like autism should be treated early to ensure proper growth of the child. In addition, adults should not be overlooked in assessing the possibility of the disorder. The studies show that over time, the disease affects older people, making it a national issue.


Case Study 3: Washington D.C.

Just like in New York, the Autism survey carried out in Washington D.C. was as result of public out cry over the increase in reported cases of autism. The research was done in public schools in the Washington and gathered the following results. In 2003, 3112 children in Washington were reported to have autism. The study carried out for the period 1992 to 2003 showed that autism cases cumulatively increased at 472%, with an annual growth of 37%. Like in New York, autism occurrence in Washington showed a rising trend between 1992 and 2003 across all age groups.

GIS maps show that with progress in time, autism is reported in more and older people. In this way, GIS has been used to compare autism cases in different states so that a comprehensive conclusion can be drawn. Though Washington and New York show different results, they show the similar trends, implying that the problem is not dependent on states, but is a problem to the nation as a whole. Solutions to this problem will therefore be applied nationwide and the results too can be monitored using GIS.


GIS is used for number of reasons. Statistics can be accurately represented in numbers. However, figures require critical analysis before one can arrive at a conclusion. With GIS, a Visual representation of statistics is given, resulting to a faster, less tedious, approach to data interpretation (Sinton & Lund 145). An advantage of GIS is that it provides spatial information in regards to the location of autism resource centers. This saves the time, cost and effort from parents in trying to locate such facilities for their children. Conventionally, bar graphs and pie charts have been used to show distribution. However, maps generated by GIS are the best representation of the prevalence of any condition such as autism, and the treatment areas. GIS maps give a better visual impression on the intensity of the occurrence (Peterson 18). Another advantage of GIS is its ability to combine data on the prevalence of autism with the environmental conditions. The result is that it then becomes possible to relate autism with the external stresses suspected to cause it.


Works Cited:

Kennedy, Diane & Banks Rebecca. The ADHD Autism Connection: A Step Toward more Accurate Diagnosis and Effective Treatment. Colorado: Waterbrook Press, 2007. Print.

Peterson, Debbie. An Interactive GIS Map of Autism Resources in Missouri: A Thesis presented to the Department of Geology and Geographic in Candidacy for a Degree of Masters of Science. Missouri: Northwest Missouri State University, 2009. Print.

Sinton, Diana & Lund, Jennifer. Understanding Place: GIS and Mapping across the Curriculum. California: ESRI Inc, 2006. Print.

Thoughtful House Center for Children: Fighting Autism. Web. 4 Nov. 2004.

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