April is critical to advocate for autism awareness

By Leominster Champion | on April 20, 2017

April 2 is recognized as Autism Awareness Day. Given the rising number of children who are diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder, April is a critical month for advocacy. Massachusetts has several items on the budget and legislative agenda related to autism this session. It is important that my colleagues and I put forth priorities that will help those diagnosed with autism and their families.

According to Advocates for Autism of Massachusetts, there are 37,000 individuals and families on the Department of Developmental Services caseload. These individuals are served by the funding provided in the state’s budget.

There are several priorities for DDS in this year’s budget. Those include the line items of Turning 22, Day Employment, Community Residential, and Transportation. Fortunately, these were also fully funded by Gov. Charlie Baker and the House of Representatives.

The Turning 22 line item is especially important given the increase in individuals who are in need of that support. In 2010, there were 630 individuals who were qualified to access the Turning 22 benefit, and in 2018 there will be 975.

In addition to Turning 22, Family Support and Respite Services is also a crucial line item. Respite services are critical for families who are caring for their loved ones. Families are often the main caretakers, and they also need and deserve a break too. It is cost effective to support these families, and they deserve the assistance from the Commonwealth.

These programs give individuals purpose, opportunity and structure that is helpful in day-to-day living. Supporting these line items is crucial to the sustainability of DDS programs that assist persons who have spectrum disorders. I hope that all of my colleagues recognize the significance of these programs, and how much they matter to families caring for their loved ones. Let’s fully fund these programs and ensure that people have the services they need to survive and thrive in society.

In addition, in order to recognize Mental Health Month coming up in May, I will be hosting a kickoff event at Mount Wachusett Community College featuring Dr. Heather Brenhouse of Northeastern University. This event is being held Wednesday, April 26 at 4 p.m. It is free and open to the public. Refreshments will be provided.