Written by Jack Connelly - CrowdLobby Summer Fellow
1 in 59 children are now identified with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). This number has increased dramatically since 2000, when it stood at 1 in 150, and continues to grow. With this quickly expanding population, Virginia and America face an important decision: will we leave people without the resources to lead fulfilling lives, or will we step up to improve our society to support them in reaching their full potential?
What is Autism?
According to the National Institute of Mental Health, “autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a developmental disorder that affects communication and behavior.” People with ASD typically display:
● Difficulty with communication and interaction with other people;
● Restricted interests and repetitive behaviors; and
● Symptoms that hurt the person’s ability to function properly in school, work, and other areas of life.
Autism is a “spectrum” disorder because of the different symptoms and severities that each individual displays. Thus, different people with ASD may require wildly different treatments and/or therapies. Despite an enormous amount of support from the general public, ASD support remains underdeveloped and underfunded in Virginia.
Autism Support in Virginia
The existing support systems in Virginia for people with ASD are largely disjointed and often ineffective, with large deficiencies and outright gaps in public services. The early intervention system leaves many children with ASD undiagnosed and without early resources. Likewise, a lack of resources in primary schools means that the road to post-secondary education can be monumentally harder for individuals with ASD. For those students that do make it through school, employment can be incredibly difficult to find. Two thirds of recent high school graduates with ASD are unemployed with no further educational plans. This is a problem Virginia must address.
A variety of obstacles face young adults with ASD: sudden independence, a substantial decrease in structure and support, and a world not ready to take them in. This makes life after public school extremely difficult and isolating. Vocational rehabilitation programs do exist, but even students who take part in these programs see employment rates at only 60%, including part-time jobs. Additionally, waivers designed to alleviate developmental disability costs have a lengthy application process and a waiting list of almost 13,000 people in Virginia alone! Furthermore, the housing options for individuals who need long-term intensive care remain sparse. Add an ineffective public management system and it becomes clear that Virginians with ASD are not getting the resources they need to succeed in our society.
What Can I Do?
Improving support for ASD is an undertaking now decades in the making. Community members are pushing for change everyday and last year passed an expansion of insurance coverage for Virginians with ASD over the age of 10. But this is just the beginning of what needs to happen.
CrowdLobby wants to address the staggering levels of unemployed people with ASD by offering employers a tax credit for employing people with ASD. This campaign is only a first step. We hope to unite Virginians in a broader effort in support of people with ASD and other disabilities. Check out our campaign to hire a lobbyist on behalf of people with ASD! Because together, we can make our government listen.