Friday, May 15, 2009

Clinic Notes: Where Will All of the Children with Autism Go

Everyone is concerned now with the rising number of children with autism. Autism diagnoses in California have increased twelve fold in two decades and rates are rising elsewhere. Providing services for these children with autism has placed a heavy burden on education and healthcare with many children unable to get the services they desperately. I practice in a rural area and at The Children's Treatment Center ( 70 to 80% of the children that we see have an autism diagnosis. Everyone who provides services for children with autism is overwhelmed. Research is increasing and that is good, but autism likely has more than one cause and there are no good animal models of autism. Since autism involves impaired communication I doubt that we will ever have a good animal model so it's likely that a cure is a long way off. When the children with autism reach adulthood and the school system is no longer responsible for them where will they go? Some will be able to have careers and live independently, but many will require continuing services. I used to be able to get special needs children in sheltered workshops and group homes in a few months, but now the wait is years and because of funding cuts some existing facilities are closing. Unfortunately, the majority are going to be with their parents. Furthermore, these children with autism will probably outlive their parents and who will take care of them then? It is time to start planning.