On March 26, the Centers for Disease Control announced a new prevalence rate for autism spectrum disorder, and some of the information is startling. The report shows a rate of 1:54 for 8-year-old-children; a 10% increase from just two years ago.
Usually that would have warranted stories on the evening news or in the morning newspaper. Neither occurred, as the country is rightfully focused on COVID-19 news. However, on April 1, we will begin recognizing Autism Awareness Month, with World Autism Awareness Day on April 2.
Despite the new prevalence rate, there is some good news in the latest CDC report.
At eight years of age, for the first time since the studies began, Black children are being identified at the same rate as White children, although Hispanic children continue to be identified at a lower rate at this age. Black children, especially those with a co-occurring intellectual disability, continue to be identified at a later age than White children, which may lead to receiving appropriate intervention at a later age.
Although there are many people affected by this pandemic, those with autism and other developmental disabilities begin as a vulnerable group of individuals. This only adds to the issues that they and their families face. Florida continues to have among the lowest state expenditure per earned income for services for those with these disabilities. Although the state has increased funding for the IBudget Medicaid Waiver program several times over the past few years, the list of those waiting for services has not gone down. There are approximately 21,000 still waiting for funding that will allow them to receive critical services to remain in their homes and communities. Reimbursement rates for service providers have not increased beyond funding levels from before the 2009 recession.
The current situation just makes life more difficult for this group. It’s not just parents of young children who must stay home from work to provide childcare while schools and many childcare centers are closed. Our adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities such as like autism, must remain home to ensure their safety while day programs and services are closed. Those with autism often can’t report when they feel sick and their illness may go unrecognized, leading to more severe consequences. Those living in congregate living facilities may be at higher risk for COVID-19 because of their poor hygiene and close living quarters. The staff supporting them face the same challenges as those working in nursing homes and adult living facilities.
Florida’s current budget looks promising for this population, but as we all know, much is in flux as we struggle to contain this new challenge that affects us all. Nova Southeastern University has long been a leader in services for children and young adults with autism, housing an office for the University of Miami-NSU Center for Autism and Related Disabilities as well as the Mailman Segal Center for Human Development’s Autism Institute, home of the renowned Baudhuin Preschool where an educational program for young children with autism is provided through an Agreement with Broward County Public Schools.
Although our current focus is on supporting each other to get through this new challenge, our communities must recognize the needs of this very complex population and ensure their health and safety. We cannot ignore the increasing numbers of people with autism and our service systems must prepare to provide them with the educational and community supports needed to lead productive lives. When this current COVID-19 crisis has passed, those with autism will still be here and we must support their needs during Autism Awareness Month and beyond.
Executive Director, NSU Autism Institute
Faculty, NSU’s Abraham S. Fischler College of Education and the College of Arts, Humanities, and Social Sciences
About the Author: Sue Kabot has worked in the field of Autism for more than 25 years and is regularly called upon by local, state and national news organizations to share her expertise. She is also a frequent presenter at national child development, autism and research conferences. Her passion stems from being a parent of an adult son with autism.
As director of NSU’s Autism Consortium, she leads outreach training, program consultation and has developed both master’s and doctoral specializations in autism. Kabot is currently chair of the organizational structure committee of the Network of Autism Training and Technical Assistance Programs and is on the Special Needs Advisory Committee of the Jewish Adoption and Foster Care Organization.
Kabot previously served on boards of the Autism Society of America’s Broward Chapter, the Broward Autism Foundation and the Miami Center for Autism and Related Disorders.
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