The Politics of Autism includes an extensive discussion of autism service providers. Since the book's publication, a big change has consisted of a massive increase in private equity and other investments.
At Digital Health Business and Technology, Gabriel Perna reports that startups are providing everything from online services to job-hunt platforms for autistic people.
“If you’re a tech company like Airbnb and you have venture capital, your mentality is typically, ‘grow, grow, grow,’” said Sarah Trautman, CEO of defy community, a company focused on preventing burnout among clinicians. “They don’t care if you’re running a huge deficit, they just want to get to scale and add in profit later…The issue that I think people are failing to consider is this requires human capital, and it really requires a ton of human capital.”
The money flowing into autism care has been plentiful. According to Digital Health Business & Technology’s funding database, more than $700 million in venture money has gone into autism-focused digital health startups since 2017. There have been 28 deals, including 17 in the last two years. That includes a $219 million round for Elemy in October 2021, a $105 million round for Brightline in March and a $60 million round for Cortica in June 2021. While most of these startups companies are singularly focused on autism, others like Brightline and Cortica aim to reach multiple patient populations.
One key reason for investor interest in the space is that every state has enacted a mandate requiring insurance carriers to cover services for autism spectrum disorder. Jonathan Mueller, CEO of Element RCM, a revenue cycle management company for autism service companies, said the funding trends follows what’s happened in other areas of medicine, such as home health and hospice care, after they were made reimbursable through insurance.
Aaron Blocher-Rubin, founder and CEO of Arizona Autism United, a community-based nonprofit that provides ABA and other services to families, and other critics have concerns over the virtualized board-certified behavioral analyst model. “Autism is way too complex. Therapists are way too underqualified to be expected to [only receive virtual support]. There’s no research on a model like this,” he said.