In late March, as social services providers like Autism Delaware continued supporting families during the shutdowns and shelter-in-place restrictions imposed in response to the coronavirus, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released updated autism prevalence reports estimating that the number of 8-year-olds diagnosed with autism has increased from one in 59 to one in 54.
The estimates are based on data collected from health and special education records of children living in 11 communities across the United States during 2016. Delaware’s autism prevalence numbers have generally been consistent with the network’s findings, but Autism Delaware organizers suspect that the state’s numbers are higher, given the advances in diagnosis since 2016.
“We have been watching demand for our services grow in the last several years, and these updated numbers from the CDC really bring home the urgency of the situation,” said Brian Hall, Autism Delaware executive director. “Families face huge challenges every day, but with the coronavirus, their struggles are even more acute. It is essential that we – and the broader community – continue to find ways to support these families. “
Going virtual with many family support services and fundraising events such as the Walk for Autism, is one way Autism Delaware is meeting these demands.
As an essential service, Autism Delaware has remained fully operational during the coronavirus crisis. Most staff are working remotely, while the offices in Lewes and Newark remain open to support participants in the adult vocational program, known as POW&R, productive opportunities for work and recreation.
Family support staff have been working with families individually and in groups through phone calls and video conferencing, hosting parent support groups, workshops, speaker presentations and chats every day of the week. Team members also keep families apprised of events and resources available through other organizations in the community, such as the Delaware Autism Program and Christiana Care’s Autism Program.
Autism Care Teams, led by family support providers, continue to coordinate services among healthcare, educational, and other providers to ensure that children with autism spectrum disorder get the services they need.
In the adult vocational program, POW&R staff is working with the Division of Developmental Disabilities Services to find other activities that will safely engage participants, many of whom were released by community business partners required to shut down during the state of emergency,
Families seeking support for a loved one with autism can call 302-224-6020 and leave a message or email email@example.com, and an intake coordinator will get back to them.
The majority of Autism Delaware’s funding is from donations and fundraisers like the annual Walk for Autism, originally scheduled for April 4 at Cape Henlopen State Park in Lewes and April 5 in Bellevue State Park in Wilmington. The agency has changed the event to a virtual walk that allows teams and individuals to walk, raise money, and come together through social networking. The event will take place during the entire month of April, Autism Awareness Month.
Walkers and teams are invited to walk on their own, take videos and pictures of their walks, post them on social media, and send them to Autism Delaware to be compiled into one video.
By mid-March, nearly 100 teams had registered and had raised tens of thousands of dollars. Walk organizers are encouraging these teams and anyone else who wants to join to keep getting contributions from supporters and well-wishers. To make donations online, go to www.autismdelaware.org.
“The coronavirus poses a huge challenge to nonprofits like ours that rely on donations from the community during events like the Walk for Autism. Families affected by autism still need support and resources, so we have to be creative about how we raise the funds to continue supporting our families,” said David Woods, director of fund development and engagement.