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Monday, April 18, 2016

HHS and Autism

In The Politics of Autism, I write about the problems of young autistic adults. 

A post at HHS by  Tom Novotny, Autism Coordinator* & Deputy Assistant Secretary for Health (Science and Medicine), Office of the Assistant Secretary for Health and Aaron Bishop, Commissioner, Administration on Disabilities, Administration for Community Living:
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently released data from its Autism and Developmental Disabilities Monitoring Network indicating that 1 in 68 school-aged children are on the autism spectrum. In announcing these data, which are unchanged from 2014, Dr. Stuart K. Shapira, chief medical officer for CDC’s National Center on Birth Defects and Developmental Disabilities, noted the importance of services and supports for these children now and as they grow into adolescence and adulthood.
We could not agree more.
Children with autism, like people with all types of disabilities, need opportunities to grow and gain independence. And from an early age, they should be involved in planning for their own transitions to adulthood.
They need to learn the skills that will enable them to fully participate in their communities, which include earning competitive wages while working alongside people without disabilities. We also must take action to structure our communities and workplaces to embrace their inclusion and benefit from their strengths.
We must ensure that services are available to support all children as they work their way through school, become young adults, attend college and seek employment.

This transition issue is critically important and one of the first priorities for the Autism Coordinator. An initial step in this effort is securing resources for the development of an report on youth and young adults with autism spectrum disorder who face challenges related to the transition from school-based services to those needed during adulthood.

The good news is that a lot of exciting work already is happening across the Department of Health and Human Services toward this end, including:
  • The Administration for Community Living (ACL) is working with states and communities across the country to improve access to services for families. In addition, ACL is working to better reach and serve minority communities. You can read more about some of this work here.
  • The Health Resources and Services Administration operates 43 Leadership Education in Neurodevelopmental and Related Disabilities (LEND) programs, which often work alongside the 71 University Centers of Excellence in Developmental Disabilities, funded by ACL. These programs train professionals from diverse disciplines to diagnose autism and other developmental disabilities and to use evidence-based interventions. Many of these programs focus on outreach to underserved communities.
  • Birth to Five: Watch Me Thrive! is a coordinated federal effort, led by the Administration for Children and Families, to encourage healthy child development, universal developmental and behavioral screening for children and support for the families and providers who care for them.
As we reflect on Autism Awareness Month, let’s challenge ourselves to move beyond being aware. Let’s create real acceptance and raise expectations. As a society, we are all better off when all people are given the opportunity to share their unique talents and contributions to society. Let’s focus on finding ways to ensure that people with autism are integrated into every aspect of community life and are appreciated for all their contributions.
*Earlier this week, Dr. Novotny was designated by the Secretary of Health and Human Services as Autism Coordinator in the Department of Health and Human Services.