Did your child just receive an autism diagnosis, recently move into a new area, your child transitioning into adulthood, or if you’re just looking for more resources to access in your community – this is the post for you! In this blog post, I’ll be covering how to navigate local community for services and resources for your child with autism and family. It’s easy to feel isolated with autism in your life, but thankfully there are so many ways to connect with others and organizations, so you’ll never have to feel alone.
First of all, services are those provided by a number of local, state, and federal programs, as well as private professionals working in medical, educational, and therapeutic fields. There are also support groups and conferences available for you to seek assistance, information, or guidance. The age of your child will also determine where to begin the process of finding services.
During and after diagnosis, you have learned or will learn a little bit about the complicated system of services available for your child. Firstly, you will wonder how to meet your child’s needs and might simultaneously face strong emotions regarding the diagnosis. Your feelings of guilt, isolation, confusion, and anger do not make you a bad person or bad parent, but the key is to deal with them constructively by getting help if needed, addressing your concerns, and learning more about autism and the challenges to come. On top of the doctors visits, technical jargon, and a mountain of information to surmount and process, you will need to learn quickly how to navigate this system to figure out what services and treatments your child needs and how to get them. The key is that diagnosis now opens the door for many services. For example, if your child is younger than three years old, you can contact the birth-to-three program in your county to request a determination of eligibility for services. If your child is school-aged, you can seek school services to begin paperwork for support and special education. If your child is older than 21, then you can start with adult services. Each county has a Department of Health and Human Services (or something like that name, they vary per state and even county) which has a list of services and programs that you may be eligible for.
Quick Tip: You will want to keep all written documentation regarding evaluations, services, and programs. Many parents create a binder for their child with autism and maintain it as they collect paperwork and documentation. You wouldn’t believe how much you’ll have over just a few years!
Once you contact your county health and human services office to inquire about programs and services that you may be eligible for. Even if you have good private insurance, this is still an important step to check off.
With autism diagnosis in hand, apply for Medicaid for your child. Medicaid will often cover needed items that private insurance will not cover. Services and programs can be expensive and add up over time, and Medicaid can help offset the costs and even may cover copays. Some types of Medicaid are based upon need and severity instead of income. This will also be helpful for your child once they reach adulthood. Also, the earlier you can apply the better – there’s often a very long (years and years long) waiting list for this resource and many others.
As previously mentioned, for school-aged children (anyone between the ages of 3-21), you can seek services and programs at the school. With a medical diagnosis in hand, you can write a letter to the school’s office to request an evaluation for special education services. Depending on the school, school district, and/or county, there are a variety of special education services available and that your child may be eligible for.
You wouldn’t believe how helpful the internet can be in finding, applying, and linking services and resources for your child and yourself. So many parents are online, on forums, and in Facebook groups and sharing information, connecting, and supporting each other through their daily lives and with future planning.
There are also a number of databases in development that collect all the federal, state, and local services in your area. I’ve found them to be a nice way to collect all that’s out there (you could easily go down the rabbit hole of scrolling through pages and pages of autism services) and currently operating (you wouldn’t believe how many I’ve found while scrolling that aren’t in business anymore). I found this Autism Source database, which consists of listings for thousands of service providers across the United States. You can also
The best way to start this search is with the Autism Source database, which contains listings for thousands of service providers across the nation.
So there we have it! A few ways to navigate your community. Essentially the starting points for community and connection. What are the ones that you’ve found to be the most helpful? Anything I missed?