Autism doesn’t graduate
Yes, I’m back again after another hiatus, but I see some of you are still reading my site.
I’ll be exploring some articles I had stored up to discuss, including a lengthy article by John Richardson of the Kennebec Journal in Maine. The story is among a growing number of journalistic investigations reporting the response to the increasing autistic population. Maine is not immune to the effects, with 680 adults with autism or other disabilities waiting to get MaineCare funding for some level of services, a figure reaching $282 million this year. That’s a few zeros, but even with 180 on that list considered in critical need for health or safety concerns, the state can only move seven to 10 people per month when funding frees up, usually when older adults die. Even just four years ago, a high school student with autism could smoothly transition to adult services if the condition warranted such care. Now, residents in Maine and other states find themselves on waiting lists that can last for years. Complicating things is the lack of affordability for services, with day programs costing $20 to $25 per hour and full-time residential care running at least a $70,000 price tag.
Richardson’s story isn’t new, as the high cost of services is a repeated point of discussion in autism articles (recently explored in the Denver Post with Interior Secretary Ken Salazar’s granddaughter). Given the current economic and political climate, foreseeing a growth of these stories published can only be expected. Autism’s strain on families is another element making a return appearance in Richardson’s story, citing a 2010 story where a father and full-time caretaker of his autistic son killed both his son and himself. Naturally, we also see statistical evidence that autism is rising in Maine, with Richardson using data from the state’s public schools. Granted, those in Maine who spend most of their news consumption within state boundaries may not be aware of similar articles in the news timeline, but that doesn’t change the increasing occurrence of reports detailing how the public may potentially deal with autistic adults unable to function independently.
The story isn’t part of an elaborate scheme to rehash the same material in order to demand more autism funding from various sources. Instead, stories with parallel themes are usually the result of considering the outlet’s audience. A similar story in the West Coast may not have the same impact because of geographical distance. There’s also a chance reporters themselves are still developing fluency; autism carries a complex nature, but its penetration may not be high enough for its own beat coverage that reporters give to topics such as politics, crime, education and sports.
Richardson is effective at spelling out the issue for readers of Kennebec Journal, balancing the recurring elements of concerned parents, data, and challenges as a result of said data. However, autism news readers likely understand by now that autism doesn’t suppress itself upon graduation. The community may ask for something deeper than localizing a previously reported story, but with the varying severity of autism combined with the uncertainty of progress offered by treatments, the adaptation of autistic adults could be one story where reporters won’t have an easy time digging further in the present.