Staff and volunteers at Autism Delaware’s Sussex County offices welcomed U.S. Senator Tom Carper (D-Del), who visited the agency Thursday in recognition of Autism Awareness Month. During the visit, he toured the offices, met participants in Autism Delaware’s adult vocational program, POW&R (for Productive Opportunities for Work and Recreation), and sat down with staff representatives and families to talk about some key legislative issues impacting services for the autism community, specifically reauthorization of the federal Autism Cares Act.
Passed in 2006 during the administration of President George W. Bush, the law’s purpose is to increase the federal government’s response to the growing number of individuals diagnosed with autism. Under the law’s state implementation plan, Delaware’s grant, known as HRSA, ends in August and an application for renewed funding is in process. If renewed, the grant would go toward family support and provider education. It would also address issues across the lifespan, including health, employment, and inclusion for adults—a matter of particular concern expressed by the parents at the meeting, all of whom were parents of adult children on the spectrum.
Autism has been on the rise nationally, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that one in 59 children in the U.S. under the age of eight is on the autism spectrum. Delaware has not been immune to this trend: In the state’s public school system in 1991, 152 students received an educational classification of autism, but for the 2018–19 school year, 2,357 students had this classification. This number does not capture the adults and children who are not currently being served by the schools’ special education system.
“With Congress out of session this week, I have the opportunity to do what I enjoy most — traveling up and down the First State to meet with constituents and organizations doing great work for Delawareans, including Autism Delaware,” said U.S. Senator Tom Carper. “I’m so appreciative of this hard-working staff and the families that volunteer their time to make a difference in the lives of so many in Delaware and around the country who are impacted by autism. I will continue to work with my colleagues in Washington to make sure patient advocacy organizations like this one have the support they need to continue their important missions.”
“We are grateful to Senator Carper for taking time out of his busy schedule to visit our offices during Autism Awareness Month, when there is a national focus on the pressing needs of the growing population of individuals on the spectrum,” added Brian Hall, executive director of Autism Delaware. “His support of the Autism Cares Act will help us expand our services and programs to Delaware families caring for loved ones on the spectrum.”
Autism Delaware is an independent 501(c)(3) nonprofit made up of individuals with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), their family members, the professionals who serve them, and friends of people with ASD. The agency’s mission is to help people and families affected by ASD. With offices in Newark, Dover, and Lewes, Autism Delaware serves the entire state. More information can be found at www.autismdelaware.org
PHOTO CAPTION: Senator Carper with Autism Delaware staff, parents of adult children with autism, and participants in the agency’s adult vocational program, POW&R, during a visit to recognize Autism Awareness Month. Pictured, left to right: Ivanka Cabajal, Autism Delaware family navigator; Tomara Williams, parent and Autism Delaware family navigator; Janet Berry, Autism Delaware associate executive director; Sen. Carper; Melissa Martin, assistant director POW&R program; POW&R participant Rohan Patel and his mother, Susan Patel; and Jess Hart, Autism Delaware direct support professional.
PHOTO CREDITS: Sen. Carper’s Office