Pennsylvania's department of public welfare has released its Autism Needs Assessment study, which includes feedback from 3,500 of the state's caregivers and adults with autism, making it the largest study of its kind in the nation.
Autism affects an estimated 30,000 Pennsylvania children and adults, and that 85 percent of these individuals also have another diagnosis such as an intellectual disability, physical health challenges or mental health issues. A combination of these diagnoses can greatly challenge the amount and type of services for individuals with autism, which the assessment will help address.
"Pennsylvania is leading the national effort toward improving the lives of people affected by autism," said DPW Secretary Gary D. Alexander. "Despite the prevalence of this disorder, there is still a lack of information about the needs of children and adults living with autism. However, the study now gives the department, advocates and families a foundation of knowledge to build upon."
Among the findings, the study shows that training in social skills has been identified as the most common unmet need for both children and adults with autism. In addition, it was found that more than two-thirds of adults with autism are unemployed or underemployed, when in fact these individuals are fully capable of working, but lack the social skills to be able to hold or find employment.
The assessment study also shows that individuals living in rural areas face increased challenges in accessing critical services and supports. This is a critical issue because 48 of Pennsylvania's 67 counties are designated as rural. Most notably, the study found that in rural areas, it is difficult to find doctors, dentists, or other specialty care providers trained to understand the unique behavioral challenges associated with caring for individuals with autism.
The study also found good news. There has been a decrease in the amount of time it takes for families with young children to receive a diagnosis. Even with the decrease, families are still waiting up to a year for a diagnosis, and there remain few to no options for diagnosing adults with autism.
"The study presents valuable information which will help our department, partnering organizations, and the communities to better serve individuals with autism and their families," said Alexander.