Lost in the Noise

November 11, 2016
One of the things about my job that surprises most people is the amount of time I spend dealing with legislation and our elected officials. Certainly, as I frequently tell people, social worker school does not have a class on how to read a bill or regulations. More importantly, you certainly don’t learn what to do when you come across REALLY BAD legislation or what to do when your clients are being ignored.

By the time you read this the elections will be over and, well, they’ll be over-that’s about all I can offer. In all the arguing, name calling, Wikileaking and general all around yelling, nothing of substance was offered regarding the plight of people with autism and other developmental disabilities. We were lost in the noise. And if you look at the math, we should have drawn some attention. The total cost per year to the economy (meaning everything associated with supporting a child with autism such as special education, medical services and the decrease in their parents’ ability to work) is estimated to be between $15 billion and $60 billion. Read that again. BILLIONS OF DOLLARS. And on a national level it drew little to no attention.

Which takes me back to my point about being ignored. Naperville and the surrounding communities are extremely fortunate to have serious grass roots support for our clients and families. Frequently, that support allows me access to elected officials who are willing to help navigate the path to better legislation that fully integrates people with autism and other developmental disabilities into the community. While this is certainly a national best practice, it’s also a smart financial practice, and one that could save the State and Federal government serious cash. A person supported residentially by Little Friends – fully integrated into their community – costs the government (that’s you, by the way, the taxpayer) approximately $200,000 per year LESS than if that person remains in the care of the State supported in a congregate facility. But we did not hear much, if anything, about this in the election cycle and with that gap in place, we continue to need your support more than ever, both financially and with our elected officials.

If you support someone with autism or a developmental disability, you need to share your experience with your elected officials. You need to tell them why the services and support you are receiving matter – and I don’t just mean services Little Friends provides. A person impacted by autism or another developmental disability is often supported by a myriad of both professional and para-professional services. All of that has a price tag – and all of it is important. The election may be over, but our clients still need to be heard.