“The current system we have right now is woefully inadequate,” says Angela Lello, director of housing and community living at Autism Speaks. "There are lots of long waiting lists. In some states, it can take as long as 10 years to gain access to [these support] services."
"A person who is nonverbal or who has significant intellectual disability will require substantial support in adulthood, and fully independent living will not be possible," says Thomas Challman, medical director and neurodevelopmental pediatrician with the Geisinger Health System Autism & Developmental Medicine Institute in Pennsylvania.
Every state offers Medicaid-funded programs for people with autism, which can be accessed through each state's Developmental Disability Agency. These services can include home health aides to help with daily functions such as dressing and bathing, as well as job placement and housing assistance, Lello says. Yet, since more than 50,000 individuals with autism transition into adulthood every year, the support services are already being outpaced by their demand, she adds.
But as parents wait for more services to become available, there are options available now to help children with autism thrive, says Challman, starting with early intervention therapy. “ Parents of children with [autism] can improve the likelihood of independent living by accessing, early and consistently, the types of therapies that help improve their child’s communication and social skills,” he says – areas that have significant impact on a child's ability to succeed in work and social settings.
Early intervention programs are available in every state for any child under age 3 who demonstrates a developmental delay, regardless of whether parents have health insurance, thanks to a federal mandate, which requires states to cover the costs of these programs if parents cannot afford them. What programs states are required to cover can vary, but no matter the technique, early intervention therapies all seek to help combat symptoms while the brain is still taking shape.