Did you know there are 5.4 million adults living with autism in the United States?

While the Center for Disease Control (CDC) has been collecting data and releasing information about the prevalence of autism in children for decades, 2020 marks the first time the CDC has reported on adults. If the past is prelude, availability of this new CDC information bodes well for adults with autism.

Over the years, data showing a prevalence increase of autism in children has resulted in a galvanizing force for change — nationally, with new federal legislation to support research; and locally, with state legislation to increase access to evidence-based treatment for children with autism.  Plus, children with autism entered the realm of popular culture through television programs like Parenthood and Sesame Street, giving rise to more awareness and understanding. Clearly, data demonstrated the need for action.

And now, thanks to this new report, we have data that confirms there is a significant population of adults with autism, whom need quality services and supports to ensure they too can lead high-quality lives.

We have a long way to go before society is truly inclusive of autistic adults, but we have the critical benchmark to start, and build upon. The 5.4 million adults living with autism deserve equity in the workforce, homes that are safe and welcoming, a rich social life–desirous life experiences for all adults.

NEXT for AUTISM wants to be part of the solution. We are committed to building resources that both promote acceptance and truly move the needle and makes meaningful changes for adults with autism. The team at NEXT for AUTISM is working hard to bring this vision into reality. We are laser focused on projects that will have a meaningful impact.

Here are just a few of our efforts for 2021:

Facilitating Mentorship
Mentorship is a well-established practice for supporting employment. NEXT GEN CONNECT is a peer mentorship program to improve acquisition and retention of employment for autistic adults. We are leveraging the passion and skills of professionals to act as mentors. Neurotypical people can fill the role as mentors, but ideally mentors will have autism too. After we pilot, evaluate and refine our program, we will disseminate it across the myriad of channels available for mentor relationships. These include alumni associations working with soon to be college graduates, young professionals committed to promoting diversity, equity and inclusion, autism networks interested in supporting the emerging workforce, we are open to all interested.

Promoting Independence
More than 600,000 adults with autism and other developmental disabilities are supported in day habilitation programs throughout the United States. NEXT 4 GOING OUT is an easy-to-use resource providing visual supports for adults with autism and the professionals supporting them. Picture supports for common activities like shopping and going to the library will be easily accessible for every adult. Using visual supports would improve the ability of adults with autism to be independent and have more control of their world. NEXT 4 GOING OUT was piloted in 2020 and is being published in 2021.

Creating a Home
There are more than 800,000 Direct Support Professionals (DSPs) working in the United States. The backbone of a quality supported living environment for an adult with autism are the professionals who work in those homes. NEXT for NEIGHBORS empowers DSPs by providing professional development, that inspires the delivery of quality support so adults with autism can thrive with improved communication, having agency, engaging in preferred activities and more. We piloted a NEXT for NEIGHBORS training initiative to great success in one home in 2020 and we are expanding our reach this year.

What’s next for NEXT for AUTISM?
Doing whatever it takes to make the world a better place. We are changing the narrative, ensuring that every adult with autism is a valued, contributing member of society – living their very best life.