By Gregory Miller
President/CEO Penn-Mar Human Services
If it seems like you’re hearing about more children you know being diagnosed with autism, it’s because autism now affects 1 in 68 children in the U.S., and in some states, like Maryland, the rates are even higher.
This complex neurological disorder impacts a person’s communication, sensory processing, social interactions, and behaviors. And boys are nearly five times more likely than girls to have it (1 in 42).
You may have heard the phrase “on the spectrum” when referring to individuals with autism. This means that some people with autism are highly impacted and some may be difficult to even detect. It also means that therapies, treatments, and other techniques for managing autism vary greatly from person to person.
April is Autism Awareness Month with autism-friendly events and educational activities taking place all month to increase understanding, acceptance and support of what has become the fastest-growing developmental disorder in the U.S.
At Penn-Mar we are seeing more individuals with autism entering into our Day and Residential programs. Most of them are 40 years or younger and in many cases have come from an educational system that is finding better ways to work with students with autism.
There is no medical detection or cure for autism, but early intervention is critical and can make a significant difference. Roughly 40% of people with autism are non-verbal, so learning to communicate with them in other ways is critical for their well-being.
Over the last 10 years the schools have been refining how they educate and prepare these kids for a more productive future, looking ahead to addressing where they will work and where they are going to live as adults.
Our vision for what we can provide for them here at Penn-Mar transcends a specific diagnosis or label. It’s really about how we can support individuals to get the most out of the life of their choosing.
That vision includes future partnerships with school systems to provide effective supports, specifically helping these students transition from school to work.
Penn-Mar’s Customized Employment Program is particularly applicable for people with autism. Our one person at a time approach to employment starts with the premise that everyone is unique.
It requires us to form relationships with all the individuals we support, to understand them better by listening to what they are looking for in a job. We take into consideration their interests, skills and past experiences rather than placing them into an environment that is not of their choosing.
Maybe some of you have seen the TV show The Good Doctor. It’s about a young surgeon with autism named Shaun Murphy who relocates from a quiet country life to a prestigious hospital’s surgical unit.
Each episode does an admirable job of portraying the challenges Shaun has with personally connecting to those around him in spite of his extraordinary medical gifts. Obviously his career path is the exception rather than the rule but the series artfully addresses how inclusion benefits society at large and brings needed attention to this growing developmental disorder.
There are some folks with autism who cannot be best supported in their homes may be eligible for residential services in the future. But currently there are not a lot of new programs available in residential supports.
We may see that happening in 10 to 15 years down the road as people age. But for now, many individuals with autism receive supports in their family home, a model of service the States prefer which is great when it’s working but is clearly not for everyone.
As always, with all services and supports we provide, Penn-Mar will be continually looking for innovative ways to transform life into living for adults with autism.