Delaware has supports and education for individuals with classic autism that crosses ages, beginning with early intervention services through Child Development Watch, transitioning into education through the Delaware Autism Program, then moving into adult services through the Divisions of Developmental Disabilities Services and Vocational Rehabilitation at age 21. Individuals with autism have traditionally been required to have cognitive deficits to receive services either from the educational or adult system. Although these systems are beginning to recognize the needs of higher functioning individuals, there are glaring gaps in services for adults who are cognitively intact and have an autism spectrum disorders. This is especially true in employment and therapeutic services such as socialization, communication, sensory and behavioral supports. There are also separate, but closely related gaps created by the lack of adequately trained medical, professional and direct support providers to adults with all autism spectrum disorders across the state that must be addressed to provide effective service.
The Task Force Report found the following:
The current definition of autism used by the various State agencies to determine eligibility for services is too restrictive. At minimum, it should be expanded to include Pervasive Developmental Disorder Not Otherwise Specified (PDD-NOS) and it should consider adding non-verbal learning disabilities which has the same functional deficits as Asperger Syndrome. Further, individuals with autism spectrum disorders should be eligible for a variety of services and supports across all of the various state agencies with greater collaboration among and between agencies.
The prevalence of autism in Delaware is within the national range, but like national prevalence, it is increasing (at a rate of 15% per year according to the Department of Education); hence, the importance of addressing the needs of adults must be now rather than later.
Delaware must establish a State Office of Autism with a lifespan approach to coordinate currently fragmented existing services in order to maximize their cost effectiveness and function as the advocate for and development of autism services. This office should be established immediately, and it should submit a long term strategy for meeting the gaps outlined in this report together with a proposed budget to the Legislature within a year of this report. The Task Force estimated that the initial cost of such an office to be in the range of $200,000, but that planning for such an activity should proceed immediately with existing resources.
Funding and the addition of needed resources for the above activity should be approached through the leverage of Medicaid waivers, use of increasingly available federal and foundation grants, and through partnerships with local institutions and surrounding states as well as by additional state funds.
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