Tomorrow marks the conclusion of Autism Awareness Month. I hope at some point this month, you were reached by the awareness campaign of the Autism Society, the nation’s leading advocacy organization for Autism, and learned more about this pervasive developmental disability.
Autism affects more individuals in the state of New Jersey than any other state in the union – 1 in 34 as opposed to 1 in 59, based on the findings the Centers for Disease Control released on April 26th. The Autism Society has responded to this by calling for “greater focus on reducing wait lists for services, transition planning, improving job readiness resources, and increasing home and community-based supports and services.”
For most of us, we do not need an awareness campaign to be touched by Autism -- especially for us here in New Jersey. We either have a relative, friend, or neighbor impacted by the disability. We have come a long way in terms of identifying autism at an earlier age and putting the appropriate supports in place. However, we can do more. As individuals “age out” of available services, families are left without the assistance they need to insure an Autistic adult can lead an independent, productive and happy life.
I speak of this with first-hand experience as my brother -- a smart, sensitive and acutely attentive young man, struggles to find suitable employment and housing in a world that only seems to become noisier, more complex, unpredictable, and presents fewer vocational opportunities. Anyone close to an individual with autism knows it is imperative to manage these environmental factors for successful living.
Morris County enjoys a reputation as a premier place to live, work and play. Shouldn’t the same be true for Autistic adults and their families? Thanks to the DAWN Center for Independent Living, a resource fair was held for at Morris County’s Central Park this week, an important step in demystifying the placement process. Availability and access is what falls short, however. Lengthy waiting and evaluation periods are putting disabled adults at risk every day. Living options need to be nearby to enable families to be a partner in the delivery of care to their loved ones. And for those who think this is too “touch, feely,” or “not my problem,” think of the positive economic impact this will have through the creation of jobs and keeping families residing in Morris County.
I look forward to working closely with the community and the extensive network of dedicated organizations to find solutions to this dire need.
Aura Dunn of Mendham Borough is a Republican candidate for Morris County Freeholder in the June 5th primary. Dunn currently serves as District Director for NJ’s eleventh Congressional District and former Associate Vice President of Government Affairs for the Sesame Workshop.