The Autism Debate
The developmental disorder known as autism has gained much attention as the number of cases continue to grow. Is there an epidemic, or is something else behind the increase? Plus, Kent General Hospital goes robotic and be sure to protect yourself from allergies.
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But education is only part of the picture. Advocates maintain that the state must provide adequate funding and coordinate efforts to provide young adults with opportunities for suitable living arrangements and employment. They believe Delaware has done a good job with the transition so far, but they admit more work needs to be done.
“Some of it is fragmented at best,” says Melissa Tice Martin, southern Delaware adult services coordinator for Autism Delaware. “And with the skyrocketing rate, we really need to have the state take a hard look at how we’re providing services that support families and individuals throughout their lifespan.”
This year, for the first time, there is no money budgeted to provide employment for students graduating from autistic programs. Failure to restore funding could have serious social and economic consequences.
“It’s money well invested because what happens to the fabric of your community when you don’t serve these young adults coming out?” says Bill Adami, president and CEO of Easter Seals Delaware. “What’s the impact on the family structure? And when you keep people gainfully employed, they become taxpayers.”
Advocates are trying to secure funding that would allow adult autistic children to remain at home to keep them out of more expensive residential programs as long as possible. In 2006 Autism Delaware joined forces with seven other disability organizations to push for a Medicaid waiver that would allow families to select services and supports that meet their needs. The effort failed. But in 2008 the Division of Developmental Disabilities Services succeeded in creating a program called the Self-Directed Support Waiver, though the recession has put implementation on hold, Ellis says.
No one expects the situation to improve any time soon. “The Division of Developmental Disabilities Services hasn’t seen an increase in funding since 2002, so they have tightened their belts every year and tried to serve more and more people,” says Tice Martin. “What we’re looking at at this point in time, given the economic circumstances is that we will be doing less with less.”
Advocates have faith in Delaware’s ability to meet the challenges ahead. Educators, social service providers, state officials and support groups are meeting to discuss ways to improve teacher training, address staff shortages, and deliver services to individuals and families of children with autism.
“We’re really concerned about the future,” says Ellis. “But long-term, I think we’re going to be OK.”
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