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As demand for autism services surges, a new Connecticut bill hopes to address the waitlist

More than 2,000 children and adults in Connecticut are on a 10-year waitlist for services through the autism waiver program, according to Department of Social Services (DSS) data. Some lawmakers are hoping a new bill helps reduce the wait.

The draft (H.B. 5001) would mandate that 600 people on the waiting list receive services and that DSS file a report by 2024 with recommendations for how to expand the program.

In 2018, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimated that 1 in 44 children in the U.S. live with autism, up from 1 in 150 in 2000.

DSS expanded autism services to an additional 250 people in 2022 and 2023, Andrea Barton Reeves, DSS commissioner-designate, told lawmakers at the state Capitol earlier this month.

Reeves said the department cannot add more with the current appropriations and level of individual benefit caps.

“Providing supports to some people who are on the waitlist and require services because they have a diagnosis of autism requires highly trained specialists who are, rightfully so, highly educated and demand significant amounts of salary in order to do that work,” Reeves said. “And we want the very best people. And there is a workforce shortage.”

Support includes clinical behavior therapy, a live-in companion, an emergency response system and job coaching.

Jennifer Twachtman-Bassett, an autism clinical specialist at Connecticut Children’s in Hartford, is concerned that children and adults on the waitlist are missing out on these services. But she told Connecticut Public they may be able to get help elsewhere.

“School-based services, but they may have to do some self-advocacy for that,” she said. “Parents can also seek individual outpatient therapies – speech therapy, occupational therapy, physical therapy or potentially counseling, which would be through their medical insurance. A lot of families are essentially piecing together services.”

Sujata Srinivasan is Connecticut Public Radio’s senior health reporter. Prior to that, she was a senior producer for Where We Live, a newsroom editor, and from 2010-2014, a business reporter for the station.

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