Posted on August 19, 2016
Training and technical services that will be available to specialists who support people with autism get Brian Freedman’s enthusiastic backing in this CDS video.
The numbers are concerning. The percentage of children with autism in Delaware schools has more than tripled over the past 12 years and services have failed to keep up. Families report waiting more than a year to receive an accurate diagnosis after they first notice symptoms. And 62 percent of children under five had to see at least three different clinicians before autism was identified.
Why is it still so hard for people with autism and their families to receive proper services, when society’s awareness about autism supposedly has grown? Delaware physicians, clinicians, teachers and other providers just have not had enough training to know how to best support these individuals and families in a meaningful and coordinated fashion. As a result, families have to become experts on their child’s care and the coordinator for their treatment team. Yet, families also report that providers often downplay their perspective, ultimately leaving many to feel dismissed, stressed and alone.
I expect that’s about to change, thanks to other, encouraging numbers. This summer, three projects totaling nearly $4 million were awarded that will begin to alter the landscape for how services are conducted in Delaware. Each project builds upon a years-long effort that included a statewide assessment conducted by the Center for Disabilities Studies (CDS), as well as collaboration among family members, professionals and community partners, which resulted in a comprehensive strategic plan for autism services, called the Blueprint for Collective Action.
First this summer, the University of Delaware, in partnership with Nemours/A.I. DuPont Hospital for Children, was awarded a federal grant to create a Leadership Education in Neurodevelopmental Disabilities (LEND) program. This program will largely focus on training graduate students and postdoctoral residents from a variety of fields to deliver individualized, high quality care that respects a person’s perspective and culture, as well as coordinate treatment with other professionals. Trainees will learn through classes, clinic observations and direct experiences with professionals, and from people with disabilities and family members. The aim is to continuously infuse new experts into the Delaware system and cultivate leadership skills among the next generation of professionals. You can learn more about the LEND program from this CDS video.
State lawmakers also passed legislation that created the Delaware Network for Excellence in Autism (DNEA), which will be based at the University of Delaware and include a partnership with Autism Delaware. This training and technical assistance center will support agencies and organizations, such as early intervention specialists and providers who support adults with autism, as well as assist families in navigating the healthcare landscape. The training offered by the network will include on-site coaching in order to help organizations build internal expertise. You can learn more about the DNEA from this CDS video.
Another federal grant, awarded this month, will aid Delaware physicians in conducting more timely autism screening, establish a model of care coordination, and improve access to evaluation and early intervention. This multi-faceted project includes partnerships between experts from the University of Delaware, Autism Delaware, Nemours, Delaware Family Voices, the Delaware Department of Education and the Delaware Department of Public Health, who will work with family members of children with autism to develop clearer and more efficient family-centered processes for receiving care. Services for those who historically had less access to quality health care options, such as families in Sussex County, will be particularly targeted for improvement.
This next phase of elevating services for children and adults with autism and their families is exciting. However, these funding streams are not permanent, nor are the initiatives comprehensive. But if the dedication and resolve of our partners is any indication, we are primed to make a strong impact and have growing success in the future.
This entry was posted in autism, Center for Disability Studies, developmental disabilities, employment, people with disabilities, training, Uncategorized, University of Delaware and tagged Autism Delaware, Blueprint for Collective Action, CDS video, Delaware Department of Education, Delaware Department of Public Health, Delaware Family Voices, Delaware Network for Excellence in Autism (DNEA), Delaware schools, Leadership Education in Neurodevelopmental Disabilities (LEND), Nemours/A.I. DuPont Hospital for Children.
Posted on October 16, 2015
Gov. Jack Markell chats with students at last year’s Disability Mentoring Day event in Newark, Del.
On Oct. 21, the University of Delaware will continue its annual tradition of facilitating Disability Mentoring Day, a national event that encourages people with disabilities to envision their careers and connect with members of the business community. For the second year in a row, UD has collaborated with state leaders, educators and self-advocates to expand the day’s activities. Students and employers from New Castle, Kent and Sussex counties will be participating this year.
While Disability Mentoring Day is certainly meaningful, it is also just one day. Our state has far too many students with disabilities who fail to find a job after finishing high school and college. Many others are never even offered the opportunity to work in the community, instead moving from high school directly into isolated settings with no chance for pursuing career goals. And it seems that the problem is getting worse. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, the labor participation rate of adults with disabilities actually went down between 2013 and 2014, from an already-paltry 17.6 percent to 17.1 percent (meanwhile, the rate went up for adults without disabilities from 64 percent to 64.6 percent). One day of Disability Mentoring Day activities is certainly not enough to solve this seemingly indelible problem.
One of the biggest reasons so many adults with disabilities are not employed is that they never get the chance to hold a job during adolescence or young adulthood. Research shows that paid or unpaid work experience during high school is one of the biggest predictors of future employment for students with disabilities. The opportunity to begin work at an early age promotes confidence and high expectations. It facilitates networking and fosters career development. This makes intuitive sense – most people can point to general skills they learned in a first job, mistakes that were made (and probably never repeated) and an internship that paved the way to getting hired.
Disability Mentoring Day offers a first step. Students with disabilities reflect on and are offered the chance to pursue their career goals. Employers are introduced to an untapped market of potential employees who have a particular interest in their field. Everyone typically ends the day feeling positively about the steps that have been taken and the connections that have been made.
What happens after Disability Mentoring Day then becomes just as critical. Connections between students with disabilities and employers usually will not develop on their own, due to the lack of priority, low expectations and negative stereotypes that are deeply embedded in our society’s general thinking about people with disabilities. Dedicated energy and resources are required to sustain the motivation that everyone feels on Disability Mentoring Day. One recent example of this is new federal legislation called the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act. WIOA mandates that states use federal funding to engage high school students with disabilities in career development activities. The University of Delaware’s Center for Disabilities Studies, along with several community providers, began working with the Division of Vocational Rehabilitation last summer to implement WIOA-funded activities and the results have been very positive. We need to continue to capitalize on short-term opportunities like Disability Mentoring Day and long-term opportunities like WIOA to maintain high expectations for students with disabilities and support their pursuit of employment and careers. Through sustained and dedicated effort, we can move the needle on employment and ensure stronger long-term outcomes for people with disabilities.
This entry was posted in accessibility, Center for Disability Studies, Education, employment, inclusion, people with disabilities, Uncategorized and tagged Disability Mentoring Day, Division of Vocational Rehabilitation, Governor Jack Markell, U.S. Department of Labor, University of Delaware, WIOA, Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act.
Posted on July 23, 2015
Incoming CLSC student Malik Bradford and current CLSC student Melinda Zerbe at UD’s CLSC orientation last week.
If only events like the one last Wednesday at the University of Delaware happened more often, and at far more institutions of higher learning. That day, young adults with intellectual disabilities and their families attended a student orientation for UD’s Career & Life Studies Certificate (CLSC) program, where the young adults learned how they would soon get the opportunity to extend their academic knowledge, sharpen their skills to live more autonomously, and refine their life and career goals.
Unfortunately, though, because the nature of an intellectual disability suggests that a person will likely require more day-to-day support (i.e., more time, staffing and financial resources) in academic, social and daily living than a person who is developing more typically, society historically has excluded these individuals from pursuing college opportunities.
Lowering expectations for these individuals on the one hand and keeping them from accessing critical learning opportunities on the other couldn’t be more wrong, however. Why? Offering appropriate supports that promote autonomy would allow so many of these students to fully embrace the opportunities that a place like college can offer. And, they’d prosper from those opportunities. The evidence is compelling: Close to 70 percent of CLSC’s graduates find employment or continue in postsecondary education upon graduation. That’s in an era where the overall labor participation rate for people with disabilities hovers around 20 percent.
Yet few opportunities exist like those at the University of Delaware. Only 27 institutions of higher education in 2008 got to develop model demonstration college programs for students with intellectual disabilities, with funding from the Higher Education Opportunity Act. CLSC was one of those programs.
But there’s hope. Last year, then-U.S. Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) submitted a draft re-authorization of the Higher Education Opportunity Act, called the Higher Education Affordability Act. This legislation has the potential to expand college services for all students with disabilities, including by increasing opportunities for students with intellectual disabilities and tracking long-term outcomes, as well as creating similar programs for students who are deaf-blind.
The bill didn’t come to a vote last year. And surely, with Sen. Harkin’s retirement, the reauthorization now requires new champions and continued advocacy. But I’m hopeful that Congress will consider reauthorization of the Higher Education Opportunity Act later this summer.
President Obama has called for increased enrollment in higher education and his administration describes college as “no longer just a pathway for a talented few; rather it is a prerequisite for the growing jobs of the new economy.” It’s time – past time – that students with intellectual disabilities are offered this same opportunity to succeed.
This entry was posted in Education, inclusion, intellectual Disabilities, people with disabilities, Uncategorized and tagged Career and Life Studies Certificate (CLSC) program, disability, Higher Education Affordability Act, Higher Education Opportunity Act, inclusion, individuals with disabilities, intellectual disabilities, President Obama, Tom Harkin, University of Delaware.