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Best and Worst Cities for Autism Care

Survey Shows Which Cities Offer Best Support for Children With Autism Spectrum Disorders

The Growing Burden of Autism continued...

For reasons that aren’t fully understood, diagnosis of autism is on the rise.

“Our current estimates are about 1% of children with an autism spectrum disorder, and that’s about 10 to 20 times greater than estimates from before the 1980s,” says Catherine Rice, PhD, epidemiologist and developmental psychologist in the National Center on Birth Defects and Developmental Disabilities at the CDC.

Part of the rise is probably because of better diagnostic criteria and more awareness of symptoms, which has led to more children being identified, Rice says.

“The large increases in the number of children being identified certainly has major consequences for the individuals affected and for the school systems in the communities that are trying to keep up with the unique service needs of people with autism,” Rice says.

Families Say They Need Better Support

Among people who felt a general lack of local support, 83% described the extensive lengths required to find appropriate classes for their kids, including hiring special placement experts, needing to change schools or districts, or having to hire lawyers to get schools to comply with legal requirements for equal education for kids with special learning needs.

Getting good medical or behavioral health care was also a problem for many families. Among those who said they were generally unhappy about services in their communities, 75% said they couldn’t access needed medical or mental health services, including Applied Behavioral Analysis (ABA) therapy, which has been shown to improve the ability of people with autism to function over the long term.

Access is the ability to both find and afford needed services. Currently, about 25 states mandate that insurance companies cover treatments such as ABA therapy.

But qualified therapists may be hard to come by, requiring a long drive or long waits, or both.

“You not only need to be close, but you need be able to access it. You need to know that you’re not going to end up on a 12- to 18-month waiting list to get in,” Roithmayr says.

Flexible work hours are also often lacking for parents with autistic kids.

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