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Best and Worst Cities for Autism Care

Survey Shows Which Cities Offer Best Support for Children With Autism Spectrum Disorders
By
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Laura J. Martin, MD

April 1, 2011 -- New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Cleveland, Philadelphia, and Boston are some of the top cities in the country for families raising children with autism, a new survey shows.

The survey was conducted by the nonprofit advocacy group Autism Speaks. It’s the first to rank metropolitan areas on how well they provide educational, medical, and recreational resources for children with autism spectrum disorders, and flexible employment policies and respite care for parents. It includes responses from more than 800 people affected by autism in 48 states and the District of Columbia.

Rounding out the top 10 are northern New Jersey, Minneapolis-St. Paul, Seattle, and Milwaukee.

“We really wanted to get a pulse of the autism community across the United States,” says Mark Roithmayr, president of Autism Speaks. “What were the things that were most important to them, and what were the things that made the biggest difference to them in their lives.”

Satisfied families, who represented only 26% of respondents, say that they are generally happy with their local schools. They also say they are able to find and afford good doctors and clinical care and are able to work flexible hours and find recreational opportunities, like challenge little league and specialized summer camps, for their kids.

A relatively quick drive -- less than an hour -- to school, doctors, and other services was another attribute of top-ranking cities.

Outside of those relative bright spots, however, the survey painted a bleaker picture of the struggles faced by families with autism.

Across the country, 74% said community services were generally unsatisfactory.

Among the states with the highest number of negative responses in the survey were Texas, Virginia, Tennessee, Ohio, Florida, Michigan, and California.

Across the board, however, a major deficit in support involved the ability for exhausted parents to get a break through respite services.

Even among people who said they were generally happy with support services in their community, 75% said they had no access to respite care.

The Growing Burden of Autism

Autism spectrum disorders (ASD) are neurodevelopmental conditions that are characterized by difficulties with speech and communication. Autistic children often have trouble with social interactions and they may exhibit repetitive behaviors, like flapping their hands or rocking.

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.

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