OP-ED: Lost sheep in the wilderness: Autistic kids seeking services ‘falling between the cracks’

April is Autism Awareness Month

April is Autism Awareness Month

Over the past three decades, the number of children born with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) has spiked alarmingly.  

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported in its most recent update April 1 that 1 in 54 children in the U.S. is born with autism. This is most sobering as this is up since the previous report of 1 in 68 being victims.  

The CDC also states that 1 in 42 boys have autism, while 1 in 189 girls suffer from some form of the spectrum. Symptoms usually are evident during the first two years of life. Statistics indicate significant improvements in diagnosis and reporting may account for a portion of the public information relating to the increase.

Nevertheless, autism and the spectrum is a serious issue many thousands of families are facing.  

I have raised an adult autistic child and know the heartache and bewilderment parents experience. We were blessed in having a gifted and talented physician who has guided our daughter through the years. She has a happy, contented life, and many strangers find it difficult to believe she is autistic.

Alabama has been fairly progressive in funding and services for the mentally ill. Unfortunately, the majority of the public looks upon autism spectrum disorders as a mental illness. It is not recognized as such when considering victims for services.  

Under existing funding regulations, autism spectrum is defined as a developmental disability, not a mental illness. Consequently, existing regulations are designed for autistic children’s needs and services to be addressed in the public school systems as opposed to mental health programs and services.  

This arrangement is a temporary patch in lieu of a permanent fix!  

After an autistic child progresses through the educational system, whether it be a special education or mainstream setting, he/she is suddenly sent out into the real world upon completion with no direction, services, and many times, without adequate leadership. Not unlike "a lost sheep in the wilderness!”

Whatever progress was accomplished in school years can easily be lost as they fall through the cracks for services.

Our nation can and simply must do a better job in addressing the needs of the autistic -- especially those reaching adulthood!   

Understandably, adults with ASD usually are jobless or have menial, low-paying work. Consequently, they are not able to contribute as much with taxes. Virtually none vote or have any interest in voting, thus, are left out of the political mix. A mental patient with the potential of recovery and becoming a productive member of society is a much more favorable constituent than an ASD person.

Please be a part in shepherding these vulnerable sheep into a meaningful, productive environment.

James  W. Anderson, of Talladega, is the parent of an autistic child living at home.